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THE NATION

Drug czar deployed for GOP, papers show

Documents hint that an official legally barred from political activities was used to help boost vulnerable candidates.

July 18, 2007|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As President Bush fought to keep Congress in Republican hands last year, the White House political director enlisted the nation's drug czar to attend events with vulnerable GOP incumbents, documents made public on Tuesday disclosed.

John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, attended 20 programs -- round-table discussions, tours, a town hall meeting and other antidrug events -- with Republican candidates from New Jersey to California.

The White House says the meetings were official events, not partisan ones, but they took place largely in districts and states where Republicans were in tough election battles. Nearly half of the candidates with whom he appeared lost their elections.

The documents suggest a coordinated effort to employ a senior official who is barred by law from political activities to help boost the fortunes of Republican candidates.

They indicate that the former White House political director, Sara M. Taylor, suggested Walters attend the events, and that Karl Rove, Bush's chief political advisor, thanked Walters for his attention to the candidates.

The release of the documents by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, follows disclosure of other efforts by Taylor and Rove to deploy senior executive branch officials to boost the GOP's political fortunes.

Walters' office denied any wrongdoing and said he also took part during the year in events with Democratic politicians intended to highlight successes in the effort to curb illegal drug use. Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said Waxman offered no evidence that the antidrug chief "was used to urge the election of any political candidate."

Taylor's lawyer, W. Neil Eggleston, said in a brief statement: "Ms. Taylor believes she managed the office of political affairs in a manner consistent with previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat."

Eggleston said he was considering whether to comply with Waxman's request that Taylor testify before his committee at the end of the month. Taylor appeared last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating whether the Bush administration fired eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

In a letter to Taylor, Waxman wrote: "Documents recently provided to the Oversight Committee suggest that White House efforts to politicize the activities of federal agencies may be more widespread than previously known."

He cited the case of the U.S. attorneys, testimony by former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona that he had been instructed to repeatedly draw attention to Bush's accomplishments, and political work by the administrator of the General Services Administration.

Among the documents was a memorandum Taylor wrote to the drug office's White House liaison on Nov. 20, two weeks after the election in which Democrats won majority control of the House and Senate.

In the memo, Taylor listed the events in which Walters had participated at the suggestion of her office.

Walters' spokesman, Tom Riley, said the list did not include events he attended with Democratic officeholders, which were sprinkled throughout his 2006 calendar.

"Our office does events with congressmen and senators of both parties, to draw attention to the drug issue, drug policy and drug programs," Riley said. "It doesn't seem surprising to me that as an election gets near, the people who would want to do events talking about administration policies are Republicans."

Walters, however, was praised by Rove, according to an e-mail sent to him by his White House liaison, Douglas A. Simon. Simon reported to Walters on a post-election meeting that Rove addressed in which he offered thanks "for all of the work that went into surrogate appearances by Cabinet members and for the 72-Hour deployment," the White House's crash effort in the three days before the election.

Referring to Rove, Simon wrote: "He specifically thanked, for going above and beyond the call of duty, the Dept. of Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture, AND the WH Drug Policy Office.... The Director and the Deputies deserve the most recognition because they actually had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them."

In a letter to Taylor, Waxman said the degree of White House control over Walters' schedule and the number of trips he made was striking.

It was difficult to understand, Waxman wrote to Taylor, how Walters' work would be enhanced "by extensive taxpayer-funded travel to 'god awful places' to appear with vulnerable Republican members."

james.gerstenzang @latimes.com

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