November 29, 2007

If you’d given up following the Senate Judiciary Committee weighing its next move against White House aides who blew off its subpoena, you’re not alone. There was some sporadic movement on this over the summer, and then a few other issues — namely the confirmation process for a new Attorney General — put the matter on the backburner.

Well, it’s back.

A Senate chairman acknowledged explicitly on Thursday that President Bush was not involved in the firings of U.S. attorneys last winter and therefore ruled illegal the president’s executive privilege claims protecting his chief of staff, John Bolten, and former adviser Karl Rove.

Leahy directed Bolten, Rove, former political director Sara Taylor and her deputy, J. Scott Jennings, to comply “immediately” with their subpoenas for documents and information about the White House’s role in the firings of U.S. attorneys.

“I hereby rule that those claims are not legally valid to excuse current and former White House employees from appearing, testifying and producing documents related to this investigation,” Leahy wrote.

At first blush, this may sound like bad news, as if Leahy is letting the president off the hook for his possible role in a major scandal. But that’s not really what’s going on here — Leahy was rejecting the White House’s executive privilege claim, and in order to do so, he had to make clear that Rove and Bolten had not consulted with Bush on executing the U.S. Attorney purge.

In other words, Leahy effectively said, “Executive privilege pertains to matters directly involving the president and his aides. Since Bush wasn’t involved, there’s no reason Rove and Bolten can’t have a friendly chat with the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Jim Oliphant has more on what happens next.

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