WASHINGTON – Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist and good friend, has announced his resignation, effective Aug. 31.
"Mr. President, I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve our nation, I am grateful for being able to work with the extraordinary men and women you brought into this administration and I am grateful to have been a witness to history.," Rove said on the White House lawn before leaving with Bush and their families on Air Force One bound for Texas.
"I will miss, deeply miss my work here, my colleagues and the opportunity to serve you and our nation," Rove said, choking up on a couple occasions.
Bush wished Rove, his friend of 34 years, "all the very best" after brief remarks that noted Rove had made a "tremendous sacrifice" to come to Washington.
"We've been friends for a long time, and we're still going to be friends. I would call Karl Rove a dear friend. We've known each other as youngsters, interested in serving our state. We worked together so we could be in a position to serve this country. And so I thank my friend. I'll be on the road behind you here in a little bit," Bush said.
The man who alternately has been called "the architect" and "Bush's brain," among other things, first disclosed his plans to The Wall Street Journal, which published the story in Monday morning editions.
Rove told The Wall Street Journal that part of the reason he is leaving now is that Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told White House aides that if they plan to stay beyond Labor Day, they are obligated to remain until the end of Bush's presidency in January 2009.
"I just think it's time," Rove said in an interview at this home on Saturday. He first floated with the president the idea of leaving a year ago, the newspaper reports, and friends confirmed he'd been talking about it even earlier. However, he said he didn't want to depart right after the Democrats regained control of Congress, and he then got drawn into policy battles over the Iraq war and immigration.
"There's always something that can keep you here, and as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family," said Rove, who has been in the White House since Bush took office in 2001.
Before dawn, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Rove wants to give more time to his family.
"Obviously it's a big loss to us. He's a great colleague, a good friend, and a brilliant mind," Perino said. "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. He's been talking with the president for a long time — about a year, regarding when might be good to go but there's always a big project to work on, and his strategic abilities — and our need for his support — kept him here," she said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also praised Rove's tenure.
"Karl Rove has made an enormous contribution to our country and our party. Now, as he leaves the White House and turns to new challenges, I wish him and his family well as they begin this new chapter in their lives," McConnell said.
But Rove is leaving under the shadow of investigations that have gone into overdrive since Democrats won the majority in Congress last November. Just last month, Bush exerted his executive privilege to keep Rove from testifying on the White House's suspected role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Monday that Rove's resignation doesn't mean he's off the hook.
"Now that he is leaving the White House while under subpoena, I continue to ask what Mr. Rove and others at the White House are so desperate to hide ... and the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation into this serious issue," Rove said.
Asked if Rove's departure is linked to any congressional subpoenas Rove may face, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Rove is not concerned about the "transient issues of the day."
Rove was never charged but was a prime target in the investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald on the leak of CIA employee Valerie Plame's name to the media. He testified five times before the grand jury.
Former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted on charges of lying and obstructing justice in relation to the probe, which was the result of Plame contending the White House was trying to discredit her husband.
Attorneys for Libby told jurors at the onset of his trial that Libby was the victim of a conspiracy to protect Rove. Details of any conspiracy were promised but never materialized.
Rove is now the latest in a string of administration resignations following the Democratic takeover. Also gone 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.
"The inner circle is now gone," National Review editor Rich Lowry told FOX News. Original insiders and former Bush advisers Karen Hughes, Andy Card and Don Evans, who all helped bring Bush to Washington, D.C., also have left the administration — although Hughes recently returned to a role in the State Department.
Rove is expected to write a book after he leaves, which is sure to be read by Republican and Democratic strategists alike. Known for his encyclopedic knowledge of districts and constituencies around the country, he was instrumental in the president's victories in 2000 and 2004, and credited with increasing the number of Republicans in Congress during the first midterm election of 2002.
2004 was "one of the most brilliant campaigns of the modern era," said Lowry, who noted that after the president reached the White House, he and Bush were "joined at the hip."
Snow said Rove's departure does not mean he will take a role in the upcoming presidential election.
"This is going to be it" for Rove, in that sense, Snow said. However, this won't be the last the White House sees of Rove. Whenever the opportunity arises, Rove will be around to "defend the presidentm: Snow said, adding that Rove was one of the "cheeriest, most chipper" people around and it will be a "brand new world without Karl."
Likely in any book will be heaps of praise for the president, who Rove called visionary in his remarks on the White House lawn.
"I have seen a man of far-sighted courage put America on a war footing to protect us against a brutal enemy in a dangerous conflict that will shape this new century," Rove said. "Mr. President, the world's turned many times since our journey began. ... Through it all, you've remained the same man. Your integrity, character and decency have remained unchanged and inspiring."
Bush and Rove's relationship dates back to the 1970s, and Rove was already integral to Bush's election as governor of Texas in 1993.
With his departure in sight, Rove said he and his wife plan to spend much of their time at their home in Ingram, Texas, while his son attends college in nearby San Antonio.
For outgoing predictions, the characteristically sunny Rove told interviewers that he expects Bush to regain his popularity, which has sunk to record lows because of the war in Iraq; that conditions in Iraq will improve; and that Democrats will nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton for president. He called her "a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate."
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.