Politics & Government

Kentucky political operative named in report about Bush White House

FRANKFORT — Scott Jennings, a former political aide to George W. Bush with deep Kentucky ties, figures prominently in a new federal report that says the Bush White House violated a federal law that prohibits public money from being used to influence elections.

The report, released Monday by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said Bush's White House Office of Political Affairs violated the federal Hatch Act by using government employees and tax dollars to help Republican candidates win elections.

Jennings, now the campaign manager for Kentucky Senate President David Williams' gubernatorial bid, is named throughout the report in his former role as deputy director of the Office of Political Affairs. The office was led by Karl Rove.

Darshan Sheth, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said Jennings is not subject to any penalty because he no longer is a federal employee.

Sheth also said his office will not be making any referrals about its investigation to the U.S. Justice Department for possible prosecution.

Jennings said in a statement he was "extremely disappointed" in the findings. He said he performed his job duties according to instructions from the White House Counsel's Office, "which offered plain, written advice that my position exempted me from the requirements of the Hatch Act."

Spokesman Sheth noted the report on page 15 says Jennings was exempt from the Hatch Act's "proscription against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace," but some political appointees were not.

The report also states: "OSC concludes that by virtue of their positions, the OPA director and deputy director, as well as some White House liaisons who required political appointees to attend the briefings, violated the Hatch Act's prohibition against using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election."

Jennings said he "fully cooperated" with the investigation and submitted to questioning three years ago. He called it "a partisan witch hunt" that was "politically motivated from the outset."

The Bush administration "acted no differently than any of its predecessors or its successor," Jennings said.

The report noted that previous White House administrations had carried on similar activities for decades.

Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon, in a statement about the report, said, "The width and depth of the actions detailed in this report are startling ... ."

He added: "David Williams needs to know that bringing experts in D.C.-style corruption to Frankfort is not the way to earn the trust of the people of Kentucky."

Jennings, in response to the Kentucky Democratic Party statement released by Logsdon, said: "I will debate your feckless, spineless and otherwise useless chairman at any time and in any place about the accomplishments and agenda of Steve Beshear. This debate will take approximately 10 seconds, as Mr. Logsdon will have nothing to offer."

Williams issued no comment about the federal report. Neither did the campaign of Bobbie Holsclaw, another GOP candidate for governor.

David Adams, the campaign manager for Phil Moffett, another candidate in the May GOP primary election for governor, said in an e-mail, "Two sides of the political ruling class squabbling over who steals more from the public is just another partisan game the people can't win."

The 112-page report by the Office of Special Counsel paints a picture of the White House Office of Political Affairs as a political machine.

It says the investigation began with a "complaint that, among other things, then-OPA Deputy Director J. Scott Jennings conducted a political briefing at the U.S. General Services Administration."

The report gives specifics in which government workers directed resources and tax dollars to activities that included Republican fund-raising, political briefings and get-out-the-vote efforts.