By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) issued a new subpoena yesterday to former Bush White House aide Karl Rove, months after Rove deflected an earlier effort to compel his testimony about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and other political disputes that swirled around the Justice Department.
Conyers's committee subpoenaed Rove on May 22, calling on him to testify about his contacts with department officials in the Bush era. But Rove rebuffed the summons, saying he was barred from testifying because of executive privilege.
Yesterday's subpoena may test the limits of that power for the first time since George W. Bush left office, legal experts said. Some Democratic lawyers have suggested that an executive order issued by President Obama last week governing presidential records could make it easier for citizens and lawmakers to gather information about Bush administration controversies.
"Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it," Conyers said. "After two years of stonewalling, it's time for him to talk."
Robert D. Luskin, an attorney for Rove, said his client will "abide by a final decision from the courts." Luskin noted that Bush, in a letter to Rove, recently reasserted executive privilege.
"It's generally agreed that former presidents retain executive privilege as to matters occurring during their term," Luskin said. "We'll solicit the views of the new White House counsel and, if there is a disagreement, assume that the matter will be resolved among the courts, the president and the former president."
In last week's executive order, Obama directed officials at the National Archives to consult with Justice Department lawyers and the White House counsel "concerning the Archivist's determination as to whether to honor the former President's claim of privilege or instead to disclose the Presidential records notwithstanding the claim of privilege."
The language, according to W. Neil Eggleston, a White House associate counsel during the Clinton administration, leaves open the possibility that more information could emerge in some long-running controversies.
The House Judiciary Committee previously sued for access to information about the firing of the U.S. attorneys. The case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after a federal judge rejected Bush's claim of "absolute immunity." Lawyers for the Justice Department must file their latest position in the case with the appeals court by Feb. 18.