Pull Up a Chair, Mr. Rove

Members of Code Pink showed up to greet Karl Rove, but instead got only an empty chair.
Members of Code Pink showed up to greet Karl Rove, but instead got only an empty chair. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Dana Milbank
Friday, July 11, 2008

Karl Rove had never been so agreeable.

The former chief strategist to President Bush was the only witness listed on the agenda for yesterday's meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, and he proved to be uncharacteristically contained.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee holding the hearing, declared herself "extremely disappointed and deeply concerned" about Rove's behavior.

Rove was silent.

Sanchez spoke of his "role in the alleged politicization of the Justice Department" and his hand in "the unprecedented firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006."

Rove offered no defense.

"If such allegations were true," said Rep. Chris Cannon (Utah), the ranking Republican on the panel, "they would be very serious."

Rove did not dispute this.

There was good reason for The Architect's quiet: He was out of the country. He had no intention of appearing before Congress, and he had sent the panel the equivalent of a doctor's note -- from no less a medical authority than White House counsel Fred Fielding -- saying he did not have to respond to the congressional subpoena.

So lawmakers decided to pull out one of the most feared weapons in their arsenal: the empty-chair stunt. They printed up a name card for "Mr. Karl Rove" and displayed it on the witness table. They put out a glass of cold water with ice, and pointed the microphone toward an empty wooden armchair.

"This meeting today is a travesty of a mockery of a sham," protested Cannon, paraphrasing the great authority on separation-of-power disputes, Woody Allen.

It was a mockery, to be sure, and it had elements of a sham. But where was the travesty?

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