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|Deep political ties between top White House aides and Attorney General John Ashcroft have put him into a delicate position as the Justice Department begins a full investigation into whether administration officials illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer.
Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, whose possible role in the case has raised questions, was a paid consultant to three of Mr. Ashcroft's campaigns in Missouri, twice for governor and for United States senator, in the 1980's and 1990's, an associate of Mr. Rove said on Wednesday.
Jack Oliver, the deputy finance chairman of Mr. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, was the director of Mr. Ashcroft's 1994 Senate campaign, and later worked as Mr. Ashcroft's deputy chief of staff.
Those connections led Democrats on Wednesday to assert that Mr. Rove's connections to Mr. Ashcroft amounted to a clear conflict of interest and undermined the integrity of the investigation. The disclosures have also emboldened Democrats who have called for the appointment of an outside counsel.
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