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White House backtracks on Salvation Army report

Fleischer: "I can tell you there was never a suggestion of a quid pro quo."  

By Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House admitted Thursday that Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, asked the Office of Management and Budget in May to consider a new regulation allowing faith-based charities to discriminate against gays in their hiring.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's admission contradicted a statement he made Tuesday that no senior administration officials were involved in a request by the Salvation Army to develop a regulation protecting it and other religious charities from local and state laws forbidding discrimination against homosexuals.

Fleischer said Thursday that when he spoke earlier in the week he did not know "whether or not Karl Rove specifically had any contact with the Office of Management of Budget."

Message Board: Gay rights  

Democratic Congressmen Jerrold Nadler of New York and Henry Waxman of California sent Rove a letter Thursday asking him to provide more information about his contacts with the Salvation Army.

Hoping to defuse criticism of its handling of the matter, the administration provided details about how the Salvation Army approached the White House and how aides handled its request.

The first contact from the Salvation Army was made to the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in mid-April, said Jay Lefkowitz, the OMB's general counsel. Lefkowitz said staffers from the religious charities office asked him to look into the request.

The Salvation Army was asking the administration to create a federal regulation to prevent religious charities that receive tax dollars from having to adhere to state and local laws that forbid discrimination against homosexuals in hiring.

Lefkowitz said that in the middle to end of May Rove asked him to see if there was a "legal solution" to the issue.

Dan Bartlett, a White House deputy counselor, said Rove talked with the Salvation Army in April about the administration's plan to allow religious groups to obtain federal tax dollars to provide social services to the needy.

Rove talked again with the Salvation Army in May, Bartlett said, when the charity mentioned it had a request about a regulatory issue.

Bartlett said Rove told the Salvation Army to put its request in writing and he would look at it. Rove then received a letter from the Salvation Army and contacted the OMB, Bartlett said.

Lefkowitz said that after reviewing the matter he reported back in early June to Rove and the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives that the best way to handle the Salvation Army's request would be to allow for a public comment period for a proposed regulation and then consider making changes.

Lefkowitz also said such a regulation raised "substantial policy questions" that would need to be addressed.

Lefkowitz said neither Rove nor the Office of Faith-based Initiatives asked him to present the issue to senior advisers.

The White House said the issue laid "dormant" until Tuesday when the administration announced in response to a Washington Post report that it was not considering such a regulation.

Bush administration officials said Thursday there was never any deal in which the Salvation Army would support of the president's faith-based plan in exchange for a proposed federal regulation allowing it to discriminate against homosexuals in its hiring practices.

"Not only can I tell you there was never a suggestion of a quid pro quo; in this case, the Salvation Army asked for something that it did not get," said Fleischer. "And the Salvation Army is supporting the president's faith-based initiative."

• The Salvation Army

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