Politics

Conyers Delays Rove’s Deposition to Give Obama Lawyers ‘Time’

By Jason Leopold

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers extended the deadline by three weeks for former White House senior adviser Karl Rove to provide a deposition to the panel over his alleged involvement in the politicization of the Justice Department, according to a letter the Conyers sent to Rove’ s lawyer Friday. 

Rove was subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee Monday and ordered to give a sworn deposition Feb 2. That deadline has now been pushed back to Feb. 23, in part, to give the Obama administration time to respond to extraordinary claims made by former Presdient George W. Bush that Rove and other former Bush administration advisers are “absolutely immune” from compelled congressional testimony even though Bush is no longer president. 

“I understand that you wish to have the date for your client Karl Rove’s deposition moved back to accommodate your travel schedule and also so you may consult with President Obama and his advisors regarding Mr. Rove’s obligation to appear,” Conyers wrote to Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin, Rove’s longtime Washington, D.C. attorney. “I am happy to reschedule Mr. Rove’s deposition for Monday, February 23, 2009, at 10 a.m.”

The Judiciary Committee has been seeking Rove’s public testimony about his role in the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 and the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, which appears to have been politically motivated. The panel subpoenaed Rove last year, but he refused to appear. 

Last year, Rove made an end-around against Democratic leaders by having his denial of sponsoring Siegelman’s prosecution inserted into the Congressional Record by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican.

Siegelman was convicted of corruption in 2006, but was released from prison on bond in March 2008 after an appeals court ruled that “substantial questions” about the case could very well result in a new trial or a dismissal. 

In written responses to questions from Smith, Rove denied speaking to anyone “either directly or indirectly” at the Justice Department or to Alabama state officials about bringing corruption charges against Siegelman.

The new Feb. 23, deposition date Conyer set will follow a Feb. 18, hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit where Conyers’ committee last year appealed a ruling in favor of the Bush administration stating that former advisers Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten did not have to testify before Congress. The Obama administration’s Justice Department is expected to file a brief with the court detailing their position on the issue.

Rove said in an interview Thursday with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he had no intention of responding to the subpoena. 

“I’ve been directed on Jan. 16, by the outgoing president’s legal counsel not to respond to a subpoena…exerting privilege on behalf of the former president,” Rove said, adding that Conyers should wait for the Appeals Court to settle the matter.

On Jan. 16, in one of Bush’s final acts before leaving office, he had White House Counsel Fred Fielding write a letter to Rove stating that he was protected by “absolute immunity” and that he can legally ignore a congressional subpoena.

The letter Fielding wrote was addressed to Luskin. It appears that Luskin requested the letter on behalf of Rove who was likely aware that Congress would continue to pursue his testimony after Bush left office.

“On behalf of your client, former Senior Adviser to the President Karl Rove, you have previously asked us whether, in view of the President’s assertion of Executive Privilege over Mr. Rove’s testimony relating to the U.S. Attorneys matter, he must appear, give testimony, and produce documents to the House Judiciary Committee,” Fielding’s letter says, according to a copy obtained by The Public Record. “We have previously been advised by the Department of Justice that Mr. Rove has absolute immunity from compelled Congressional testimony as to matters occurring while he was senior adviser to the president.” 

“We anticipate that one or more committees of the United States Congress might again seek to compel Mr. Rove’s appearance, testimony or documents on the subject of the U.S. attorneys matter,” Fielding’s letter to Luskin says. “Please advise Mr. Rove that the President continues to direct him not to provide information (whether in the form of testimony or documents) to the Congress in this matter and that consistent with the president’s exercise of executive privilege relating to his testimony, and documents, and in view of the Department’s longstanding position on the immunity question, the President directs him, in the exercise of this constitutional immunity, not to appear before Congress on this matter.”

Luskin sent Fielding’s letter to President Barack Obama’s White House Counsel, Greg Craig, seeking the Obama administration’s position on matters related to Bush’s unprecedented privilege claims even though he is no longer president. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Craig is reviewing it. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said in a statement Monday that the Bush administration’s “absolute immunity position was supported by then-President Bush, but it has been rejected by U.S. District Judge John Bates and President Obama has previously dismissed the claim as “completely misguided.”

In September 2008, U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected Bush’s position, saying the concept of blanket executive privilege lacked legal precedent.

“The Executive cannot identify a single judicial opinion that recognizes absolute immunity for senior presidential advisors in this or any other context,” wrote Bates, a Bush appointee. “In fact, there is Supreme Court authority that is all but conclusive on this question and that powerfully suggests that such advisors do not enjoy absolute immunity.”

President Barack Obama stated during Campaign 2008 that he believed Bush was overreaching with his claims of executive privilege. On his first full day in office, Obama also signed an executive order reining in the power of former presidents to keep their historical records secret.

Obama directed the National Archives and Records Administration to consult with the Justice Department and White House counsel “concerning the Archivist’s determination as to whether to honor the former President’s claim of privilege or instead to disclose the presidential records notwithstanding the claim of privilege.”

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