News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Name of Rove's Aide Appears in Two Washington Inquiries - New York Times

Published: October 27, 2005
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 - At the nexus of two high-profile investigations roiling the nation's capital is an unlikely - and largely anonymous - figure known for fiercely safeguarding her bosses.

Susan B. Ralston, 38, has worked as an assistant and side-by-side adviser to Karl Rove since 2001, helping manage his e-mail, meetings and phone calls from her perch near his office in the West Wing. That has made her an important witness in the C.I.A. leak investigation, as the special prosecutor has sought to determine whether Mr. Rove misled investigators about his contacts with reporters about Valerie Wilson, the undercover operative whose identity was made public in 2003.

Ms. Ralston is also entangled in another political scandal: the case of Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist, who employed her in the same frontline capacity during a stretch of time that is now under criminal investigation.

Ms. Ralston is not considered a suspect in either case, and several close colleagues say it is by sheer accident that she has been swept up in both investigations. Lawyers involved with the two cases say no other person besides Ms. Ralston has played a pivotal role in each one. She has appeared at critical junctures in both: it was Ms. Ralston who patched through a phone call from Matt Cooper, the reporter for Time magazine, to Mr. Rove on the day in July 2003 that they discussed Mrs. Wilson, then known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. And Ms. Ralston, while in Mr. Abramoff's employ, drafted a memorandum about his suites at local arenas, which he used to entertain clients and public officials who have since gotten in trouble for accepting his favors.

Ms. Ralston has been interviewed by investigators in the Abramoff case, which is examining Mr. Abramoff's work on behalf of Indian tribes and other lobbying interests, as well as his complicated financial arrangements. She worked for him, first at the firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds and then at the firm Greenberg Traurig, before she moved to the White House early in President Bush's first term.

Ms. Ralston has also testified at least twice before the grand jury in the leak case.

She did not return a call to her White House office on Wednesday. Her lawyer, however, made available a friend who was able to verify details about her life and who, like her other colleagues, portrayed her as an up-close and innocent witness to both sets of events.

"Susan is sharp as a tack and straight as an arrow, and so that's all hopefully going to pay off now," said her friend, a Republican lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case as well as Ms. Ralston's position.

Although published reports suggest that Mr. Abramoff sought to place Ms. Ralston with Mr. Rove after the 2000 election to gain easy access to him, her colleagues said that was not the case.

"Karl was looking for the most competent person around and stole her," said Grover Norquist, the Republican activist who heads the group Americans for Tax Reform and is an ally of both Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Rove.

Though colleagues described her as ambitious within the Republican Party, Ms. Ralston maintains a low external profile that has made her invaluable to Mr. Rove, who was quoted in The National Journal describing her as "a remarkably gifted leader" who was "playing a vital role."

"She's very careful about Karl and pretty guarded," said a Bush associate who is friends with Ms. Ralston, speaking on condition of anonymity because the White House is sensitive to even benign comments related to both the C.I.A. leak and Abramoff investigations.

In fact, she rebuffed Mr. Abramoff at least once in writing, after he sought her help in getting Mr. Rove to call the Interior Department on behalf of one of his clients.

"I don't want to bother you guys with a meeting request, so I was hoping you could pass on to Karl that Interior is about to approve a gaming compact and land in trust for a tribe which is an anathema to all our supporters down there," Mr. Abramoff wrote to Ms. Ralston in a February 2003 e-mail message first published by Time magazine.

Ms. Ralston replied, "Karl and others are aware, but the WH is not going to get involved."

Ms. Ralston's portfolio expanded at the White House this year, accompanied by an elevated job title and a significant raise. In 2003, she held the position of executive assistant to the senior adviser and earned $64,700, which was bumped to $67,600 in 2004. This year, as Mr. Rove took on new duties as the deputy chief of staff, Ms. Ralston was promoted to special assistant to the president and assistant to the senior adviser, earning $92,100.

Now, people familiar with Ms. Ralston's work said, she functions as Mr. Rove's own chief of staff, coordinating the five groups within the West Wing that he oversees.


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