(I realize that the juxtaposition of Bach's Air On A G String and the name Karl Rove seem like an odd combination.  But this video was sent to me by a reader who plays with this group, and I thought it was a fantastic combination of a lovely Bach piece and the universe around us.  Kind of makes you feel insignificant, doesn't it?)

I sit here this morning watching Rep. Waxman's Government Oversight committee haggle over subpoenas and oversight of the use of backdoor e-mail addresses through the RNC and otherwise by folks in Karl Rove's WH political office.  And I'm awaiting news on whether Monica Goodling will or will not be given immunity and subpoenaed to testify with regard to her involvement as a bridge between the DoJ and the WH political operatives.  Quite a bit of buzz in the air regarding the OSC investigation of Karl Rove's political shop in the WH – some skeptical, some hopeful, some puzzled.  Scarecrow had a fantastic background piece on it this morning, and Eli hit this last night as well, nailing the essential question of whitewash or reality.  I've been pulling out all the research that I can find on Scott J. Bloch, and being generous in describing it, it is decidedly mixed and, in some places, troubling. 

But I keep coming back to this question in my mind, and it is something that has to have occurred to Karl Rove and his personal political minions as well:  at what point does Rove's utility as chief political "strategist" (read:  expert on screwing political opponents, close to and over the ethics line, on any given day) get outpaced by his even-higher-profile utility to others in the GOP as the chief target of a corruption probe which would then be held up as an example of the GOP's willingness to police their own?

I don't ask this as a theoretical construct, but as a practical question.  The headlines of late have been grim on the Republican corruption and lawbreaking front:  Abramoff, DeLay, Ney, Safavian, Libby, Cunningham, Doolittle, Wilkes, Lewis…it just goes on and on.  Rove's loyalty has been and continues to be, first and foremost, to pushing forward "his" candidates, whatever the cost to anyone else in the party — because Rove's reputation is built on his candidates being the top dogs.  And more than anything, he wants to win — whatever it takes to get there.  But you do not do this without having it come at the expense of others, and that adds up to a whole lot of resentment building up over the years as you wield your power for your own good.  Rove doesn't just do that with Democratic opponents, he has also built quite a reputation for doing it with Republicans that he saw as weak or disobedient.

Everything that I have been able to ascertain about Mr. Bloch, the head of the OSC, is that he is a Republican party man in terms of philosophy and actions consistent therewith – and that there are any number of questions about prior decisions in pushing investigations forward or not (H/T to Sam Graham-Felsen at alternet), burying information or not (H/T Michael Froomkin), using his position to advance certain issues or not (H/T Daniel Schulman at Mother Jones — don't miss the article illustration.) — all of this points to serving a particular agenda. 

But is that Karl's agenda or his own?  It seems to me that an ambitious man who reads the GOP tea leaves and realizes that the wind is no longer filling the "loyal Bushies" flaccid sails on the ship of state might begin to question just which way his reputation might better be made:  protecting Karl Rove's behind or as the savior of the modern Republican party who made an example of a formerly all-powerful political smarm merchant to return the outward (if not true inward) appearance of integrity.

In other words, the man who returned an issue of electability to the party on the back of Karl Rove, whose strategies are not working out so well at the moment and whose day in the sun appears to be setting rapidly — and whose build-up of resentful chits among the Beltway establishment has grown louder and louder in terms of people being willing to now speak up about the once great and powerful Rove.

Witness this from David Ignatius:

If you want to hear despair in Washington these days, talk to Republicans. The Democrats are exulting in their newfound political power and are eager to profit from Bush's difficulties. But Republicans voice the bitterness and frustration of people chained to the hull of a sinking ship.

I spoke with a half-dozen prominent GOP operatives this past week, most of them high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush I and Bush II administrations, and I heard the same devastating critique: This White House is isolated and ineffective; the country has stopped listening to President Bush, just as it once tuned out the hapless Jimmy Carter; the president's misplaced sense of personal loyalty is hurting his party and the nation.

"This is the most incompetent White House I've seen since I came to Washington," said one GOP senator. "The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can't even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It's the weakest Cabinet I've seen." And remember, this is a Republican talking.

A prominent conservative complains: "With this White House, there is loyalty not to an idea, but to a person. When Republicans talked about someone in the Reagan administration being 'loyal,' they didn't mean to Ronald Reagan but to the conservative movement." Bush's stubborn defense of Gonzales offends these Republicans, who see the president defiantly clinging to an official who has lost public confidence, just as he did for too long with former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld….

The current White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, needs to mount a similar salvage mission, argue several prominent Republicans. They question whether he's politically adept enough. But most of all, they question whether Bolten or anyone else can break through Bush's tight, tough shell and tell him the truth. What's starting to crack isn't the obdurate Bush, but the country.

The reason that Bolten cannot launch the desperately needed rescue scrubbing of the White House is twofold: Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. The party cannot remove Dick Cheney — but Rove? That is another question entirely.  I am not certain that they have the nerve to do it — not by a longshot — but I have begun to hear rumbles, and people that I know in Washington have begun to hear them, too.  The blame for all of this failure has to rest somewhere. 

But then again — the longer you stall investigations by Congress into real wrongdoing, and the more excuse folks in the Administration have to say "I cannot comment due to an ongoing OSC investigation.", the more time you buy to run out the clock until George Bush is out of office.  And there may be value in banking on people being so relieved to be rid of him at that point that they don't care to push investigations forward any longer.  But it is a huge gamble — the smarmy taint of Bush and Cheney and Rove has rubbed off on the entire Republican party, and how long those outside the inner circle will stand for that is a looming question at the moment.

These people have invested their public reputations in George W. Bush, so while they may distance themselves from him in small ways, there is not the fortitude for a wholesale repudiation just yet in a public way.  Dick Cheney still wields a lot of power, publicly and behind the scenes, and he has placed tentacles everywhere in the Beltway to ensure that he gets the information that he needs on everyone when he needs it. 

Karl Rove was similarly situated, but the cracks in his political apparatus have begun to show.  Kyle Sampson is talking to Congress to save his own behind. Many of the most loyal political minions have started looking beyond their government salaries to more lucrative jobs in the private sector — which are hard to come by with the spectre of a federal investigation looming overhead — and so they have also begun to talk, quietly and in most cases anonymously, but in a White House where keeping your mouth shut was a badge of necessity for keeping your job, it is no longer as much of a threat with less than two years to go and a steadily ticking clock.

Washington in the Bush era has resembled nothing so much as a very tangled web, interwoven with threads of loyalty and personal enrichment and cronyism to a degree that even the most hardened politicos did not think possible.  It has been stunning to watch, actually, and even more stunning to think that the "loyal Bushies" have been able to get away with it for this long.  But this self-dealing regime rested on the foundation of a complicit, rubber stamping Republican Congress.  The 2006 election changed that dynamic, and the fingerpointing game in Washington is a old and very intricate one — and one at which a number of the long-term Washington hands are expert.

I keep asking myself to which camp Bloch will ultimately be loyal:  the Rovian loyalty bunch, the George Bush personality cult, the Republican party reputation is bigger than any one person group, or to his own potential reputation as a "giant slayer" and party loyalist who saved them all from the fetid stench of corruption before the next election cycle.  The interesting tidbit, as Scarecrow pointed out this morning, is that fired USAtty and Republican David Iglesias may have been the initiator of this Hatch Act investigation by the OSC.  (ThinkProgress has some transcripts of this discussion on Hardball.)  It will be interesting, indeed, to see how this plays out.

As for Rove, is he tightening his hold on the strings of the complex web he has woven over the last six years, drawing some threads more tightly to him than others to strengthen its bonds overall?  Or is he at long last losing that grip on the overall weave, and scrambling to keep its integrity holding at the center while threads snap off at the sides?  And, if so, how long will it be in that scenario until he is left dangling by a string? 

If we have learned nothing the last few years, it ought to have been to never underestimate Rove's ability to throw someone else under the bus to save his own skin.  But, with an inner circle growing ever smaller by the day — how many folks are left?