Thursday, July 10, 2008

Karl Rove's Contempt for the Constitution and the Public's Right to Know

Karl Rove's Contempt for the Constitution and the Public's Right to Know

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Karl Rove ain't coming. And he ain't talking. Except on Fox News.

Despite being subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee to testify on his role in politicizing the Justice Department -- and in using the Department to selectively prosecute Democratic officials -- the erstwhile Boy Genius has announced that he won't be showing up at tomorrow's scheduled hearing.

He claims that the president's assertion of executive privilege "obligates" him to disregard the Congressional order.

By doing so, Rove is thumbing his nose at Congress, legal precedent, the public's right to know the truth -- about, among other things, the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and the blackballing of Justice Department hires -- and the Constitution.

In 1776, Thomas Paine -- America's first blogger -- wrote in Common Sense: "in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other."

But throughout its seven-plus years, the Bush administration has demonstrated an unwavering belief that it is above the law and a deep-rooted disdain for checks and balances, and the Constitutional imperative of coequal branches of government.

Rove's refusal is, of course, part and parcel of the Bush White House's ongoing efforts to keep its actions cloaked in secrecy. But beyond that, it is further evidence that for Bush/Cheney and company the ultimate power in America lies in their hands, not in the hands of the people or the laws that govern us.

This is no petty partisan squabble; this is a fight about the foundations of our democracy.

Writing in Slate, David Iglesias, one of the U.S. Attorneys Rove may have had a hand in firing, carves up Rove's executive privilege claim, pointing out that in the landmark case of United States v. Nixon the Supreme Court unanimously held that executive privilege is not an absolute right:

The court noted that "military or diplomatic secrets" of an administration would be given "utmost deference." But the court was simply unwilling to go further to extend this high degree of deference merely to protect "a president's generalized interest in confidentiality."

So surely no Court -- not even the Roberts court -- would extend the privilege to protect political gamesmanship designed to build a permanent majority.

True to form, Rove has offered to meet with the Judiciary Committee -- but only in private, without being under oath, and with no transcript kept. Shades of the conditions imposed on the 9/11 Commission by Bush and Cheney, who only agreed to meet with the Commission members in tandem and with no record kept (indeed the members' notebooks were confiscated).

Rove has already been cited for contempt by the Senate Judiciary Committee for refusing to testify about the U.S. Attorney scandal. Since that time, he has landed high-profile gigs with Fox News and Newsweek. Maybe he figures this round of refusal will land him his own show.

So what will happen tomorrow when Rove refuses to show? Judiciary chair John Conyers and Linda Sanchez, chair of the Commercial and Administrative Law subcommittee, have threatened to subject Rove to "contempt proceedings, including statutory contempt under federal law and proceedings under the inherent contempt authority of the House." In theory, according to the Congressional Oversight Manual, Rove could be arrested, "brought before the House or Senate by the Sergeant-at-Arms, tried at the bar of the body, and can be imprisoned in the Capitol jail."

But that's not going to happen. Odds are the Committee will move to hold Rove in contempt. The matter will then be turned over to the Justice Department -- the same Justice Department Rove is accused of politicizing -- which will likely do the same thing it has done with Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton, i.e. nothing. The matter will then be tossed to the courts... and Rove will go on pontificating on Fox and advising John McCain. Pretty sweet set up.

But none of this should stop the media and the public from keeping the pressure on Rove, on the White House, and on Congress. And the media organizations that have embraced Rove should be reminded on a regular basis that he is not a pundit worthy of our attention, but a Constitutional scofflaw worthy of our scorn.

A final thought: yesterday, a rumor that Nancy Pelosi was trying to block Conyers from holding Rove in contempt swept across the blogosphere. People were up in arms, with numerous calls for Congressional phone lines to be clogged with protest and rebuke. The trouble is, the rumor wasn't true. It's a reminder that as we rightly laud the ability of the Internet to galvanize citizens, and as we figure out the new rules of engagement, we don't toss out some of the old rules that have served us so well. Such as picking up the phone and calling the subject of the rumor. Or the subject's press secretary. Which is how the Pelosi rumor was finally -- and easily -- killed.

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