Anyone thinking that Karen Hughes is going to sit back and just take the next few months off got a truer picture of the situation on Friday, when a "senior White House official" told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that vice presidential staffer Mary Matalin would be leaving the administration in the foreseeable future.
While the White House source of that leak wasn't Hughes, the targeted comment about Matalin, according to a White House staffer, had Hughes's fingerprints all over it. "She wouldn't have said it, but she would have allowed it to get put out there," says the aide.
According to another White House source, Hughes appeared to be peeved that Matalin's name was being dropped by various media outlets as a possible replacement for her senior counselor job to President Bush.
"When you see Matalin's name being tossed around by people like [New York Times columnist] Maureen Dowd, you get proactive," says the second source. "You don't want it to snowball. I don't think Hughes believes Matalin was behind the whispers, but she wasn't going to let it get out control."
Matalin had a meeting late last week with outgoing Massachusetts governor Jane Swift, who is not running for re-election and is said to be considering a consulting job with the Republican National Committee. The two women talked about juggling work in government and family considerations, and Matalin has said she told Swift that a job in the White House was not something she would hold on to for the full length of the administration.
But that comment was separate and unrelated to the White House leak that left little doubt that Matalin would not be moving over to the presidential staff and certainly would not be warming up Hughes's chair.
"Matalin might have been hoping in the back of her mind that the unattributed comments over the past week supporting her for Hughes's job would push things in her direction, but that was never going to happen with Karen around. She would never let spin affect her job or the President's job like that," says a White House source.
SAVING CANDIDATE RYAN
Concerned about Republican election hopes in Illinois, President George W. Bush plans on several trips to the Land of Lincoln. The first will probably be a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan in mid-May. "I don't know why we can't get some bigwigs out here earlier than that," says a senior Illinois Republican Party member. "The White House can't get George Ryan to step aside, and the national party doesn't seem to care too much about what happens here. It's a mess."
One reason the White House has kept a low profile in Illinois: House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who, lest we forget, represents the state's fourteenth district. "Out of courtesy we've been letting him take the lead in his home state," says a senior Republican National Committee staffer. "But people here are losing patience. If we keep hearing stuff like that, we're going to have to step up and step in."
FBI CHECK MATES
If anyone should know how the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation work when dealing with financial investigations like the one they are undertaking in the Enron and Arthur Andersen cases, it's Andersen itself. Turns out, according to several FBI sources, the accounting firm has done quite a bit of contract work with both agencies in the past few years.
In fact, Andersen is currently in the midst of a full audit of the FBI's operation. As news of the Enron scandal began to break, and Andersen's alleged involvement in the overall story hit the news, FBI director Robert Mueller sought advice on whether the bureau could break its multimillion dollar contract with the firm. But FBI legal counsel said Andersen had an airtight contract. Besides, Andersen staff had been on the job more than six months and were too far along to be pulled off.