Rove Subpoenaed Again

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, May 23, 2008; 1:08 PM

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday sent former White House political guru Karl Rove a new subpoena to add to his document collection. It makes a matching pair with the subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee that he's been ignoring since last August.

Both relate to investigations of Rove's role in the politicization of the Justice Department and the possibly politically-motivated firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The House investigation is particularly focused on allegations of selective prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. And because Rove -- now a celebrated pundit and columnist -- has been so outspoken in denying any involvement with the Siegelman case, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers argues that Rove's refusal to appear at a public hearing and testify under oath is particularly inappropriate.

But there seems little doubt that Conyers will run into the same wall that has thwarted his Senate colleagues. The day Rove was supposed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he didn't bother to show up. And the White House made the extraordinary claim that he has absolute immunity from congressional oversight. As I wrote in my Aug. 2 column, Karl Rove's Immunity, the law does not appear to support anywhere near such a broad assertion. Traditionally, courts have recognized that the president's right to confidentiality must be balanced against Congress's legitimate oversight needs. But no matter. The White House asserted it -- and the Senate folded.

Conyers is more of a fighter. When former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers didn't show after a subpoena last summer, and when White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten refused to turn over subpoenaed documents, Conyers didn't back down. He asked the Justice Department to enforce the subpoenas. And when Bush political appointees at Justice refused, he asked a federal judge to do it. That civil suit is pending.

Meanwhile, the White House shows no sign of letting up on its unprecedented assertions of privilege. White House spokesman Tony Fratto yesterday called the new subpoena an act of "political theater" and said: "They know he can't respond to those questions."

And as I wrote in my May 2 column, What Karl Rove Fears Most, the wily political operative will do just about anything to avoid being forced to answer a direct question -- especially under oath.

The Documents in the Case

Conyers released a series of documents yesterday and issued this statement: "It is unfortunate that Mr. Rove has failed to cooperate with our requests. Although he does not seem the least bit hesitant to discuss these very issues weekly on cable television and in the print news media, Mr. Rove and his attorney have apparently concluded that a public hearing room would not be appropriate. Unfortunately, I have no choice today but to compel his testimony on these very important matters."

In the most recent exchange between Conyers and Rove attorney Robert Luskin, Luskin wrote on Wednesday that "in light of your reported remarks about the need for 'someone' to 'kick his ass'," he was not "the least bit confused about the Committee's motives and intentions. I confess, however, that I do not understand why the Committee is threatening a subpoena to Mr. Rove for information related to the alleged 'politicization of the Department of Justice,' when, as the Committee is surely aware, Mr. Rove has already received a subpoena for the same subject matter from the Senate Judiciary Committee. I do not understand why the Committee insists on provoking a gratuitous confrontation while the issues raised by the Committee's request are being litigated in U.S. District Court or why the Committee refuses to consider a reasonable accommodation. . . .

"While the Committee has the authority to issue a subpoena, it is hard to see what this will accomplish, apart from a Groundhog Day replay of the same issues that are already the subject of litigation."

Luskin also noted: "Your letter of May 14 draws attention to the fact that Mr. Rove has publicly denied any involvement in the prosecution of Gov. Siegelman or that he behaved improperly concerning the firing of U.S. Attorneys. There is no legal doctrine that stands for the proposition that Mr. Rove must stand silent in the face of false accusations or that his general denial of wrongdoing vitiates a privilege held by others."

In his response, Conyers wrote back: "Your letter is incorrect in suggesting that the enclosed subpoena will raise the same issues as the Senate Judiciary Committee's subpoena to Mr. Rove and the pending lawsuit concerning our Committee's subpoena to Harriet Miers. Both these matters focus on the firing of U.S. Attorneys in 2006 and efforts to mislead Congress and the public on that subject. Here, as we have made clear from the outset, the Siegelman case is a principal focus of our request for Mr. Rove to testify. In addition, unlike Harriet Miers, Mr. Rove has made a number of on-the-record comments to the media about the Siegelman case and the U.S. Attorney firings, extending far beyond 'general denials of wrongdoing.' There is no question that both the prior subpoenas to Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers should have been complied with. But it is even more clear that Mr. Rove should testify as we have now directed."

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