Justice Department: Prosecutors to Question Karl Rove and More
Friday, May 15, 2009; 10:30 AM
Post staff writer Carrie Johnson discussed the latest news from the Justice Department, including the interview today of Bush White House official Karl Rove by federal prosecutors investigating the firing of several U.S. attorneys.
Carrie Johnson: Good morning. Thanks so much for logging in today to talk about the Justice Department. Nothing but news coming out of Main Justice these days, from word that Karl Rove is being interviewed by federal prosecutors as I type to nonstop news out of Gitmo and elsewhere. Happy to answer your questions and hear your thoughts so dive in now.
Boston: What are the logistics of the interview? Will he be formally sworn under oath? Can he claim "executive privelege" as a reason not to answer certain questions?
Carrie Johnson: Thanks Boston, the logistics of the interview this morning of former Bush aide Karl Rove remain a little murky. What we do know is that prosecutor Nora Dannehy has traveled to the Georgetown office of Rove's lawyer, Bob Luskin, and that Rove is submitting to an interview regarding any role he played in the decision to fire 9 U.S. attorneys in 2006. Rove will not be able to invoke executive privilege, since the privilege belongs to former President Bush, and Bush agreed to waive these issues for the most part to settle a related case filed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. I believe, though would appreciate comment from the peanut gallery on this, that it is a crime to mislead a federal prosecutor, FBI agent, etc. in an interview -- that that extends beyond testimony to a grand jury.
It's worth noting that Dannehy already has interviewed several other key former White House players and has reached out to lawmakers as well -- Rove by no means is the only character to be a focus of her interest, and Rove has said he will fully cooperate with the Dannehy investigation.
Bethany, CT: What consequences are there for Mr. Rove or Ms. Miers if they lie during testimony? Are the obligations to tell the truth the same (and the penalties the same) as if they were in court?
Carrie Johnson: Thanks Connecticut. I believe that any person who is interviewed by prosecutors, FBI agents and representatives from the Inspector General is obliged to tell the truth and could face legal consequences for not doing so.
As many sage lawyers in Washington have been reminding me since the Dannehy probe began in September 2008, the biggest risk of criminal jeopardy may not be the prosecutor firings themselves, but rather making false statements about one's role in the process.
Hartford, Conn.: Do you suppose Rove has been told not to bluff his way through this? He has a history, after all. Showing up at high school debates with shoeboxes full of lank "research notes," telling political enemies he has "files" on them which probably consisted of retroactive Google searches, etc. Can he resist the urge to try to prove he's smarter than the prosecutor? Because that usually doesn't work well.
Carrie Johnson: Hartford, remember that Rove appeared before a grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson multiple times. In the end, prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald never filed any criminal charges against Rove. Rove is familiar with this process now and his defense lawyer, Bob Luskin of the firm Patton Boggs, is one of the most experienced and smartest in the business. So Rove no doubt already has received advice about the process and how to handle himself this morning.
Washington, D.C.: Do you have any idea why Republican U.S. attorneys like the one who prosecuted Don Siegelman are still in office? RESIGN.
Carrie Johnson: Hi DC. How the Obama administration will handle the appointment of U.S. attorneys is on the minds of lots of people in Washington and around the country (not just we law geeks).
I wrote a story for the Post a couple of months ago suggesting the appointment process could take a while. About half of the Bush appointees left before or after the November election but a sizeable number remain in their jobs.
Yesterday, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. suggested that it would be a matter of weeks before a first batch of U.S. attorney nominees is unveiled by the White House. Already many key senators including those in NY, Nevada, IL and elsewhere have forwarded their recommendations to the White House for consideration. And we know too that Pat Fitzgerald in Chicago and Jim Letten in New Orleans likely will stay on the beat, while Dan Bogden of Nevada, one of the nine prosecutors fired by Bush, will likely return to that office. So, to make a long answer short, you should be seeing some activity on this front in June or July.
that it is a crime to mislead a federal prosecutor, FBI agent, etc. in an interview: I think we should also put out that it is a felony to interfere in a federal legal case. So the wing nuts who will soon be writing in to say that Rove, Bush and Gonzo had the right to fire the USA's for any reason are dead wrong.
Carrie Johnson: Thanks for sharing this comment.
Baton Rouge, La.: Been checking the C-Span channels. Is this interview being televised?
Carrie Johnson: No. Decidedly not. The interview is being conducted in private, as part of an ongoing federal law enforcement case.
Transcript? Video? : Hi Carrie,
We know that Karl was willing to testify before congress provided there was no recording of the testimony or transcript which could be made public. Is there any hope of a public record here? Will we know what he says when the trial starts? Or is this hidden behind the wall of a Grand Jury investigation?
Carrie Johnson: The House Judiciary Committee reached an agreement earlier this year with former President Bush and the Obama White House to resolve an ongoing lawsuit in DC in which the HJC sought testimony and documents from Rove and former Bush White House counsel Harriet Miers.
As part of that deal, Rove is likely to testify behind closed doors as early as June, but the House Judiciary will consider making a transcript of that session public at a later date. It's not clear to me whether the Justice Department/Nora Dannehy, the prosecutor who is leading the criminal probe into the U.S. attorney firings, could intercede with the House and try to keep that session under seal. There's been no public sign of that yet, however.
Misleading Prosecutors: Isn't it clear that misleading a prosecutor makes one subject to obstruction of justice charges ? Those are often only charged under extreme circumstances and I can't believe that Rove is capable of skirting that or simply invoking the 5th amendment. But still.
Carrie Johnson: Thanks very much for this comment.
Prescott, Ariz.: When Patrick Fitzgerald "interviewed" Rove about his role in revealing the identity of a CIA agent, it took him five sessions to get his story straight. Do you see him getting his act together the first time here, or can we expect him to have to repeatedly return to the investigators to "clarify" what he meant?
Carrie Johnson: I think we can say with confidence that no one relishes having to be interviewed by a prosecutor or a grand jury multiple times....
Washington DC: What specifically are the crimes that Rove is being investigated as possibly having committed?
Carrie Johnson: Rove is one of many people connected to the Bush White House and the Congress that prosecutor Dannehy is interviewing. The Justice Department Inspector General and its Office of Professional Responsibility said they could not get to the bottom of the US Attorney firings because they could not compel testimony about the dismissals from people who don't work at DoJ. So Dannehy, who has subpoena power and has received bunches of documents through grand jury subpoenas, is trying to fill in those blanks.
Munster, Ind.: What information did Mr. Rove share with Dick Cheney and/or with his representatives regarding the treatment of attorneys? Are there emails or other evidence of communication between Cheney and Rove on this subject?
Carrie Johnson: Munster, the short answer is that we don't know what's in the batches of email messages, telephone logs and other materials that prosecutors and the House Judiciary Committee have got their hands on, and we may not for a while.
The origins and motivations behind the prosecutor firings in 2006 are murky and that is one of the reasons the Justice Department and people on Capitol Hill are continuing to investigate.
Vernon,B.C., Canada: Thanks for the GREAT articles, today and last week concerning the lobbying by former Bush officials, directed at the present WH and DoJ. Last week I asked Scott Wilson if he knew of any precedence of such a thing by either parties. Since you wrote the original article, of which he also gave you kudos, do you know of any such precedence, obviously excluding the Nixon/Ford Administration. Thanks Carrie, and keep up the great work!
Carrie Johnson: Thanks for the kind words Canada! I do not off the top of my head know a precedent for the situation you mentioned.
Out of an abundance of fairness, I should mention that what some people call a "lobbying campaign" by former Justice Department lawyers and their representatives, other people would call an example of "due process" and "providing context" to new decisionmakers at the department.
Arlington, Va: Does Rove pay for his own very expensive lawyer or does the federal government pay it because it is relation to things that happened when Karl was gainfully employed?
Carrie Johnson: Hmm... I do not know the answer to this question but will endeavor to find out. The US government often provides legal representation (or pays for outside lawyers) to defend government officials who are sued in connection with the scope of their employment. Former Attorney General Gonzales, for instance, is getting his fees paid in a civil lawsuit in DC over allegedly politicized hiring practices at the department when he was in charge there. And the Justice Department has been defending John Yoo (author of some of the hot button memos blessing harsh interrogation tactics, now a law professor) in a civil case out in California.
Barrington, Ill.: President Clinton discharged many U.S. attorneys at the beginning of his tenure in 1992. Many of those released presumably were of a mindset favorable to Republican Party principles since they were appointed by Republican president Ronald Reagan. Can one really believe that the Clinton firings weren't "political" in nature?
Carrie Johnson: The distinction that needs to be made is this:
U.S. attorneys are political appointees who can be fired at will. However, it is impermissible to fire them for improper political reasons (such as lawmakers believe they are not prosecuting enough Democrats on the eve of a contested election). In the case of the nine fired U.S. attorneys, IG and OPR investigators concluded that improper reasons played a role in a small number of dismissals. That's what Dannehy is investigating.
For what it's worth, the Obama administration took a different approach from the Clintonites...The White House and Justice Department officials left in place the Bush holdovers to prevent unrest and disruption in important cases, but will move methodically to propose its own candidates for the key posts in the months ahead. The new team took into account guidance from career federal prosecutors, who had written to Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and other Justice transition leaders asking them to avoid disruptions.
Fairfax County, Va.: I have heard that many of the politically chosen Bush era attorneys who were NOT fired -- presumably, those who did Rove's bidding when asked -- are still at the DOJ and have not yet been asked to make way for new appointees from the Obama administration.
Is this true? Is this surprising? When will this change?
Carrie Johnson: Hi Fairfax, this is true in some cases (about half of the 93 U.S. attorneys left shortly before or after the November 08 presidential election, so some of the Bush picks remain in place.) The White House counsel and Justice Department leaders have a lot on their plate right now, but they are moving forward soonish with respect to U.S. Attorney candidates, AG Holder told lawmakers yesterday.
Evanston, Illinois: What are the odds we get a special prosecuter?
Carrie Johnson: Well, Nora Dannehy is not a "special prosecutor" in the sense that she was appointed last year by then Attorney General Michael Mukasey to look at the issues but NOT pursuant to government regulations in place for "special prosecutors." That's a legal term of art. But she IS an independent, career government attorney who's served as acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut and who made her name by prosecuting that state's GOP Governor, John Rowland, on public corruption charges. By all accounts she's a serious minded, exacting prosecutor and people involved in the case tell me they trust her fairness and her judgment.
SW Nebraska: Will there be any questions about former Alabama Governor Don Siegleman's incarceration?
Carrie Johnson: An appeals court recently affirmed the conviction of former Alabama Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, who is trying to remain out of prison in part by alleging his prosecution was politically motivated. The Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility has been conducting its own investigation into Siegelman's accusations but the findings have not yet been publicly released. Rove's lawyer, Bob Luskin, has told other media outlets this year that Rove voluntarily submitted to an interview in that case and that he has nothing to fear from it.
Carrie Johnson: Thakns so much for all the interesting questions and comments. Keep reading!
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