Karl Rove: New Rampart, Old Battles

By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, June 23, 2008

He's been gone from the White House for nearly a year, but Karl Rove continues to provoke liberal ire and present a big bull's-eye on his back for congressional Democrats.

Rove has moved from full-time politics to punditry, with high-profile perches as a commentator and opinion writer at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek magazine. He's writing a book about his experiences in the White House. He's also said to be involved in trying to line up conservative money for independent expenditures in this fall's presidential campaign.

But old controversies have followed him along the way: The House Judiciary Committee is still trying to get him to testify under oath about his role in the firings of U.S. attorneys and about allegations from Don Siegelman, Alabama's former Democratic governor, that Rove conspired to oust him from office.

Then there's the Valerie Plame Wilson leak case, which got new legs thanks to the book by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, which seems motivated as much as anything by animus toward Rove for, in McClellan's view, misleading him about his role in the disclosure of Wilson's identity as a CIA operative.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, McClellan was asked by Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) whether he would "trust Mr. Rove if he were not under oath to tell the truth."

"Well, based on my own experience," McClellan replied, "I could not say that I would."

The answer is likely to fuel Democrats' determination to put Rove under oath. Rove's attorney has indicated a willingness on the part of his client to meet informally with committee staff to discuss the Siegelman case, but he says the White House won't permit him to testify on the grounds of executive privilege.

"Mr. Rove is not a free agent," lawyer Robert D. Luskin wrote to the committee last month, though he has indicated to committee staff that Rove would agree to an interview "without prejudice." That means the committee could still seek to compel his formal testimony in the courts.

Rove and Luskin, however, want to confine the informal interview to the Siegelman case -- which is not good enough for the panel, which wants to question him more broadly about the U.S. attorney firings.

In a brief e-mail exchange Friday, Rove would not comment. He has been more voluble about his feelings about McClellan in his comments on Fox News, where he has maintained that he did not leak Wilson's name and ridiculed the former press secretary's suggestion that there might have been something sinister about a 2005 meeting with

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

He's also blasted the suggestion that he had anything to do with Siegelman's prosecution on bribery and corruption charges, as the former governor has contended. "I certainly didn't meet with anyone at the Justice Department or either of the two U.S. attorneys in Alabama about investigating or indicting Siegelman," Rove said in a letter to MSNBC anchor Dan Abrams, complaining about the network's coverage of the case.

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