Karl Rove nosed his Jaguar out of the garage at his home in Northwest Washington in the predawn gloom, starting another day in which he would be dealing with a troubled Supreme Court nomination, posthurricane reconstruction and all the other issues that come across the desk of President Bush’s most influential aide.
But Mr. Rove’s first challenge on Wednesday morning came before he cleared his driveway: how to get past the five television crews and the three photographers waiting for him. He flashed his blinding high beams into the camera lenses and sped by.
That is the way things are for the Bush White House these days. The routines are the same. But everything, in the glare of the final stages of a criminal investigation that has reached to the highest levels of power in Washington, is different.
“Everyone is going about the work at hand while bracing for the worst case,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to get around the official White House position that it will not comment on the investigation.
Mr. Bush joked late last year with Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, about why Mr. Cooper was not yet in jail for fighting a subpoena demanding that he testify about a conversation with a source who later turned out to be Mr. Rove. These days, though, the leak investigation is almost never spoken of openly within the West Wing, and certainly not made light of, administration officials say.
There is a presumption inside the White House that anyone who was indicted would resign or go on leave to fight the charges, though it is unclear what planning has taken place for that possibility.
The prospect of a White House without Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush’s longtime strategist, has some allies of the president in a near panic, fearful that without him the administration would lose the one person capable of enforcing discipline across a party that has become increasingly fractious and that is almost at war with itself over the president’s nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court.
While the West Wing seems more on edge than usual – Mr. McClellan got into an uncharacteristically heated exchange with reporters on Thursday about the Miers nomination – the official line is business as usual, and the principals appear to be trying hard to play their roles.
Mr. Libby still arises in the wee hours each morning and puts in 14- to 16-hour days in Mr. Cheney’s office. Mr. Rove, who left his house at 5:50 on Wednesday morning, has kept up his usual duties, Mr. McClellan said. After appearing before the grand jury on Friday, Mr. Rove will get right back into political mode. He is scheduled to appear at a fund-raiser over the weekend for Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia.