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 18 months 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. "We've been friends for a long time and we're still going to be friends. Bush looked grim, standing with Rove on the South Lawn. "I would call Karl Rove a dear friend," Bush said, noting that his own term is running down. "I'll be on the road behind you here in a bit."
Rove, his voice quivering at times, said, "I'm grateful to have been a witness to history. It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime."
"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."
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.
Bush was expected to make a statement Monday with Rove. Later Monday, Rove, his wife and their son were to accompany Bush on Air Force One when the president flies to Texas for his vacation.
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."