Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rove End-Runs House Democrats

Rove End-Runs House Democrats

By Jason Leopold

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Former White House political adviser Karl Rove, who has refused to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, ran an end-around against Democratic leaders by having his denial of sponsoring a political prosecution inserted into the Congressional Record by a senior Republican.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican, submitted a written question-and-answer exchange with Rove in which the political strategist said he played no role in the controversial prosecution of Alabama’s former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman.

The surprise move angered the panel’s Democratic leaders who have been discussing whether to hold Rove in contempt for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena that demanded that he testify under oath at a hearing two weeks ago.

The Judiciary Committee has been seeking Rove’s public testimony about the Siegelman case since April as part of its investigation into allegations that the Bush administration used the Justice Department to prosecute more Democratic public officials than Republicans.

Rep. John Conyers, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, had rebuffed a compromise floated by Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, to have Rove testify in private or respond in writing to the committee’s inquiries about the Siegelman case, as well as the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys.

Luskin then turned to Smith, who posed some questions to Rove and inserted the Q-and-A into the Congressional Record.

In his written responses, Rove denied speaking to anyone “either directly or indirectly” at the Justice Department or to Alabama state officials about bringing corruption charges against Siegelman.

”I have never communicated, either directly or indirectly, with Justice Department or Alabama officials about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of Governor Siegelman, or about any other matter related to his case, nor have I asked any other individual to communicate about these matters on my behalf,” Rove wrote. “I have never attempted, either directly or indirectly, to influence these matters.”

Instead, Rove said the Judiciary Committee should press Siegelman to justify his allegations about Rove’s interference in the case.

"The committee should require Siegelman to substantiate his allegations about my 'involvement' in his prosecution – something he has failed to do in either media interviews or court filings," Rove wrote.

Siegelman was convicted of corruption in 2006, but was released from prison on bond in March after an appeals court ruled that “substantial questions” about the case could very well result in either a new trial or a dismissal.

Siegelman has long maintained that Rove was intimately involved in the prosecution and other attempts to blunt Democratic inroads that Siegelman’s governorship represented.

In an interview with The Anniston Star on May 18, Siegelman said Rove first targeted him in 1998.

“It started when Karl Rove's bag man, I call him, Jack Abramoff, started putting Indian casino money into Alabama to defeat me in 1998,” Siegelman told the newspaper. “Shortly after I endorsed Al Gore in 1999, Karl Rove's client, the attorney general of Alabama (Bill Pryor) started an investigation.

“In 2001, Karl Rove's business associate and political partner's wife, Leura Canary, became a U.S. Attorney and started a federal investigation. … It started with the attorney general and the state investigation, followed by the federal investigation, followed by indictments in 2004, and then another series of indictments leading up to the 2006 election … but, yeah, it's all part of the same case.”

When Rove failed to appear at a Judiciary subcommittee hearing on July 10, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-California, the panel’s chairwoman, said the assertion of executive privilege did not justify Rove’s failure to appear.

“The proper course of action is for Mr. Rove to attend the hearing pursuant to subpoena, at which time any specific assertions of privilege can be considered on a question-by-question basis,” Sanchez said, speaking to an empty chair that was reserved for Rove.

Smith criticized Sanchez and defended Rove, saying his refusal to appear before the committee ''is not a sign of an administration refusing to cooperate with Congress.''

Aides to Conyers said Wednesday the committee intends to vote to hold Rove in contempt for refusing to respond to a subpoena seeking his testimony.

That will likely set the stage for another court battle revolving around executive privilege. Already, White House chief of staff Josh Bolton and former White House counsel Harriet Miers have ignored congressional subpoenas to testify about the U.S. Attorney firings.

Last month, during a hearing on the case in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Judge John Bates said Congress could have had Bolton and Miers arrested for refusing to comply with the subpoenas.

While historically Congress has ordered people detained for refusing to comply with subpoenas, the power has not been used in modern times.

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