As a rule, Karl Rove’s word isn’t worth much, but today he did exactly as promised — he said he’d blow off a House Judiciary Committee subpoe
July 9, 2008

As a rule, Karl Rove’s word isn’t worth much, but today he did exactly as promised — he said he’d blow off a House Judiciary Committee subpoena, and that’s precisely what he did.

Former White House adviser Karl Rove defied a congressional subpoena and refused to testify Thursday about allegations of political pressure at the Justice Department, including whether he influenced the prosecution of a former Democratic governor of Alabama.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, chairman of a House subcommittee, ruled with backing from fellow Democrats on the panel that Rove was breaking the law by refusing to cooperate — perhaps the first step toward holding him in contempt of Congress.

Lawmakers subpoenaed Rove in May in an effort to force him to talk about whether he played a role in prosecutors’ decisions to pursue cases against Democrats, such as former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, or in firing federal prosecutors considered disloyal to the Bush administration.

Rove had been scheduled to appear at the House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday morning. A placard with his name sat in front of an empty chair at the witness table, with a handful of protesters behind it calling for Rove to be arrested.

Rove and his attorney had offered lawmakers a chance to chat “informally” about the U.S. Attorney purge scandal, but Rove wouldn’t have been under oath, and there’d be no transcript or official record of the discussion. Dems, instead, subpoenaed Rove to give formal testimony.

Rove’s lawyer cited (.pdf) executive privilege in arguing that Rove “is immune from compelled Congressional testimony.” The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law didn’t see it that way, and voted to find Rove’s claims of immunity invalid.

So, what happens next?

There are, of course, two pending questions on executive privilege, stemming from White House chief of staff Josh Bolten’s and former White House counsel Harriet Miers’ decision to blow off a congressional inquiry into the same controversy. That question is pending in court, and probably won’t be resolved anytime soon.

In the meantime, the full Judiciary Committee and, eventually, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will have to decide whether to pursue contempt charges against Rove.

Kate Klonick reminds us, “Since Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) threatened contempt last week, we’re expecting a vote on that in the near future, but it won’t be happening today.”

I’d just add that Conyers isn’t likely to let this slide. In mid-May, Conyers casually told some associates, when he thought no one else was listening, “We’re closing in on Rove. Someone’s got to kick his ass.”

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