House Committee wanted Rove behind closed doors to allow longer questioning, aides say

Larisa Alexandrovna

The House Judiciary Committee chose to interview former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove behind closed doors because they wanted more time to question him, and not as a concession to Bush Administration representatives, sources say.

“It was our choice,” one House Judiciary aide told Raw Story.

According to two Judiciary Committee aides, the committee opted for the private testimony so that they could depose Rove for an extended period of time. During a public hearing, each committee member would have only a few minutes to ask questions.

“We could question him for 12 hours if we choose to,” said one of the aides.

Both aides confirmed that Rove would not be sworn in before his testimony but explained that testimony before Congress is de facto sworn testimony and any false statements would in fact be perjury regardless.

Asked why in that case Congress bothers to swear people in during public hearings, one of the aides quipped, “Because it looks good.”

Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, confirmed that his client had not requested to be deposed in private.

“As I've said many times, we were not a party to the negotiations, so I have no idea where any of its terms came from,” Luskin wrote in an email.

The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Rove three times in connection with allegations that he was directly involved in the firing of US Attorneys and the alleged political prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) (above right) subpoenaed Rove in 2007 and again in January and February of this year. Rove did not appear for any of these subpoenas, with his representatives saying he was blocked by former President George W. Bush’s claims of executive privilege.

Don Siegelman, the former Alabama governor who was convicted of bribery charges in 2006 and released on appeal this year, said he agreed with the Committee’s decision to question Rove behind closed doors.

“Rove can always be called back before the full Committee for a public hearing if there is reason for the Committee to do so,” Siegelman said in an email. “If the investigation and interrogation of Rove is done thoroughly then we will see Rove again in public testifying after first having been properly sworn in.”

No date has yet been set for Rove’s deposition. Rove is expected to testify after the Judiciary Committee receives documents from by former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.

On June 13, 2007, the committee subpoenaed Miers and Bolten, requiring testimony on the US Attorney firings and the handing over of all related documents. (More specific descriptions can be read here.) They declined after President Bush invoked claims of executive privilege.

Miers and Bolton were found in Contempt of Congress on Feb. 14, 2008, and in July 2008, a court ruled that White House aides were not immune from Congressional subpoenas.

“Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena,” U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote in his opinion.

The Judiciary Committee aides would not say whether the documents have been provided to the Committee already or how far along they were in the process of obtaining them.

Asked if Rove’s testimony will be made public immediately, one Judiciary aide said it would not.

“We want to question other people and call Rove in again if necessary,” the aide said. “We don’t want any testimony to be influenced.”

The aide explained that they want to be sure that Rove and the others to be deposed do not “compare notes,” but that all testimony will be released to the public when the investigation is concluded.

The names of the other individuals to be questioned were not shared.

Both Judiciary aides would not comment on whether two figures allegedly involved in the prosecution of the former Alabama governor were on the list: Bill and Leura Canary.

Bill Canary is a former Alabama business partner of Rove’s; his wife Leura was appointed the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama by President Bush. Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican attorney turned whistleblower, appeared before the Committee in September 2007 and testified (pdf) that Rove and both Bill and Leura Canary had been directly involved in the investigation and prosecution of Siegelman.

Siegelman says he believes that Canary’s testimony is key.

“The Committee now needs to subpoena Bill Canary's phone and email records during the period of time he is to have been in contact with Rove about getting DOJ to prosecute me,” Siegelman wrote in an email.

“They didn't get Nixon by calling Nixon and they didn't get John Gotti by calling Gotti,” he added.

The Judiciary Committee wants to question Rove about Simpson’s allegations.

Committee aides will also question Rove about the 2005 “mid-term” firing of nine US Attorneys by the Bush administration for allegedly refusing to indict Democrats, as well as on the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice for political advantage. The US Attorneys were fired under a little-noticed clause in the Patriot Act.