WASHINGTON - Karl Rove, President Bush's close friend and chief political strategist, announced Monday he will leave the White House at the end of August, joining a lengthening line of senior officials heading for the exits in the final 11⁄2 years of the administration.
On board with Bush since the beginning of his political career in Texas, Rove was nicknamed 'the architect' and 'boy genius' by the president for designing the strategy that twice won him the White House. Critics call Rove 'Bush's brain.'
'Karl Rove is moving on down the road,' Bush said, appearing grim-faced on the White House's South Lawn with Rove at his side.
'We've been friends for a long time and we're still going to be friends ... I'll be on the road behind you here in a bit,' he said ruefully.
'I'm grateful to have been a witness to history. It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime,' said Rove, his voice quivering at times. 'But now is the time. ... At month's end,' Rove said, 'I will join those whom you meet in your travels, the ordinary Americans who tell you they are praying for you.'
After a lengthy hug from Bush and then his wife, Laura, Rove joined them on the president's helicopter. Rove, his wife and their son were flying with Bush on Air Force One to Texas, where the president is vacationing.
A criminal investigation put Rove under scrutiny for months during the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's name but he was never charged with any crime. In a more recent controversy, Rove, citing executive privilege, has refused to testify before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys.
Rove's departure reinforces Bush's lame-duck stature and declining influence, particularly with Democrats in control on Capitol Hill.
'Obviously, it's a big loss to us,' White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. 'He's a great colleague, a good friend and a brilliant mind. He will be greatly missed, but we know he wouldn't be going if he wasn't sure this was the right time to be giving more to his family, his wife, Darby, and their son. He will continue to be one of the president's greatest friends.'
Since Democrats won control of Congress in November, some top administration officials have announced their resignations. Among those who have left are White House counselor Dan Bartlett, budget director Rob Portman, chief White House attorney Harriet Miers, political director Sara Taylor, deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch and Meghan O'Sullivan, another deputy national security adviser who worked on Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced out immediately after the election as the unpopular war in Iraq dragged on.
White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told senior aides that if they stayed past Labor Day they would be obliged to remain through the end of the president's term in January 2009.
Rove became one of Washington's most influential figures during Bush's presidency. He is known as a ruthless political warrior who has an encyclopedic command of political minutiae and a wonkish love of policy.