Back in March, when House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers announced that he and his staff had reached an agreement to have Karl Rove and ex-White House Counsel Harriet Miers testify privately about their roles in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys he said his panel also reserved the right to haul the former Bush administration officials before Congress to testify publicly about the matter.
Conyers is now considering taking advantage of that prearranged agreement. He and his staff have been engaged in talks that could result in Rove and Miers being called to testify before his panel sometime in the fall, according to several congressional sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Their expected appearance would mark the first time that senior Bush White House officials will testify publicly about a scandal that resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top Justice Department officials. Rove and Miers defied numerous congressional subpoenas seeking their sworn testimony over the past two years about the roles they played in the firings of the federal prosecutors.
Both Miers and Rove were subpoenaed by Conyers’ committee numerous times and were held in contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before the panel. They said Bush administration attorneys advised them they were protected by George W. Bush’s assertion of “absolute immunity” and were told not to appear before the committee.
If Rove and Miers are called to testify before Congress and either of them refuses to appear than the agreement the Judiciary Committee entered into with the former officials would be considered breached and Congress “can resume the litigation,” Conyers said in a statement his office issued March 4, after his panel reached a negotiated settlement to secure Rove and Miers’ testimony. The parties agreed to stay the contempt case “until at least the completion of the [private interviews,” The Constitutional Law Prof Blog noted. The agreement between the Judicairy Committee and Rove and Miers begins on page 4 of Rove Exhibit 1.
Attorneys for Rove and Miers did not return messages left at their offices nor did they respond to e-mails seeking comment.
The questioning of Rove and Miers, if a public hearing is held, is expected to be lead by committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, a former federal prosecutor who also lead the questioning during their closed-door testimony before the committee in June and July.
The Judiciary Committee has already reached out to some of the fired federal prosecutors whose dismissals, according to documents and e-mails released by the panel last week, were politically motivated to assist in drafting new questions for Rove and Miers, congressional sources said.
These sources added that, in addition to covering old ground, the committee wants Rove and Miers to publicly testify about what Bush knew and when he knew it.
In his interview with the committee last month, repeatedly avoided responding to direct questions about whether Bush was aware of the plan. But in interviews he gave to The Washington Post and The New York Times last month, which the newspapers agreed not to publish until Rove completed his second round of testimony last month, he said he believed Bush “had been informed of the decision to let the prosecutors go.”
In an interview with the Post, Rove also said he’s “sure” Bush was told about the firings in advance.
“Maybe Harriet [Miers] talked to him about it,” Rove said. “I’m sure they did walk in at the end and say, ‘Mr. President, we want to make a change here.’”
That revelation would contradict numerous public statements made by White House spokespersons Tony Snow and Dana Perino that Bush did not play a role nor was he involved in the decision to dismiss the U.S. Attorneys and that the decisions emanated from the Department of Justice.
“[T]here is no indication that the President knew about any of the ongoing discussions [about firing U.S. attorneys] over the two years, nor did he see a list or a plan before it was carried out,” Perino told reporters in March 2007.
The Judiciary Committee intends to question Rove again about his statements related to what Bush knew.
Miers testified that she believed it was “required” for Bush to be told about the U.S. Attorney firings and she expected White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to brief Bush about it. She added, however that perhaps Bolten never told Bush about the plan based on the fact that Perino’s March 2007 statement to reporters said Bush was in the dark about the matter.
In a Judiciary Committee report issued last week that accompanied the release of documents, the panel said that Rove and Miers’ statements, “plus the revelation that [former New Mexico] Senator [Pete] Domenici directly pressed Chief of Staff Bolten to have [New Mexico U.S. attorney David] Iglesias replaced in the fall of 2006, brings the matter closer to the former President’s door than previously known.”
Last year, a 356-page report prepared by Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine and the head of the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, H. Marshall Jarrett, concluded that Bush and Rove spoke with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in October 2006 about their concerns over voter fraud in three cities, one of which was Albuquerque, New Mexico,” and concerns Domenici had about Iglesias’s job performance.
Conyers’ committee had previously subpoenaed Bolten to testify about his role in the firings, but his testimony was not part of the negotiated settlement the Judiciary Committee entered into.
In a little known 12-page fact sheet the committee released last week summarizing Rove and Miers’ testimony, the panel said Rove’s “memory appeared to be quite selective.”
Rove “did not remember basic facts such as how and when he learned that David Iglesias would be removed, whether or not he ever saw the list of US Attorneys proposed for removal, or whether he even knew which US Attorneys were on the removal list when he approved the plan,” the committee’s fact sheet states. “Similarly, Mr. Rove clearly remembered obscure details such as a conversation with a now-deceased political scientist from a University of Wisconsin subcampus about possible flaws in the Justice Department’s rejection of Wisconsin vote fraud
“But he did not recall much more basic facts about the matter such as whether there were specific US Attorneys that White House officials wanted to replace during the President’s second term, or what statements he made to [Alberto Gonzales's former chief of staff] Kyle Sampson and [the Justice Department’s White House liaison] Monica Goodling at a political briefing he lead just weeks before the final stage of the removal process was launched. While failure of recollection is always an issue in investigations, the extent of these witnesses’ failure to recall the basic facts about recent events is disturbing, and continues to obscure the full truth about the US Attorney removals.”
The committee said Miers “suffered from an extraordinary failure of recollection during her interview, stating more than 150 times that she did not recall the answer to questions about the US Attorney matter, including fundamental and memorable facts such as what she meant when she wrote that a ‘decision’ had been made to remove David Iglesias from his position in October 2005, or whether or not Karl Rove specifically asked that David Iglesias be removed when Mr. Rove called her, agitated, from New Mexico.”
Congressional sources said, in the case of Rove, he has made specific comments in the past week characterizing the reasons for Iglesias’s firing that he did not disclose during his testimony and as such he will be questioned about it when he testifies publicly.
In discussing the U.S. Attorney firings, lawmakers want Rove and Miers to publicly explain who was responsible for disclosing to them specific details about ongoing corruption investigations some of the fired prosecutors had been conducting, some of which involved powerful Republican lawmakers, which Democrats believe was then used to justify the firings, congressional sources said.
In the case of Iglesias, the panel is particularly interested in probing recent statements Rove made following last week’s release of the transcript of his testimony and thousands of previously undisclosed e-mails that showed he was deeply involved in Iglesias’s firing.
But in an interview last Wednesday with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Rove tried to minimize his role in Iglesias’s dismissal and said it was Iglesias who politicized prosecutions.
Rove said he told the Judiciary Committee he “passed on to the White House counsel’s office to pass on to the Justice Department complaints about the performance of the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, that he failed to go after ACORN in clear cases of vote fraud, that he bungled a high prosecution — a high-profile corruption prosecution by interfering with the career prosecutors, and that he was treating an indictment of people in a courthouse corruption case very politically by refusing to indict them when the case was ready but waiting for nine months, 12 months, 14 months until after an election.
“These were charges that were made about him. Allegations. I was not in a position to find out whether or not they were accurate. That was up to the Justice Department. But I had an obligation to pass those on through the appropriate channels.”
The Judiciary Committee wants Rove to answer how he arrived at that conclusion if neither he nor any of the Republican Party activists in New Mexico had access to any of Iglesias’s case files as he has maintained.
In an interview, Iglesias said Rove’s claims are “outrageous,” particularly the fact that Rove has “the audacity” to claim that Iglesias had politicized an investigation into a courthouse construction project involving a former state Democratic official.
“He never talked to the FBI agent assigned, he didn’t talk to the [voter fraud] task force members, he didn’t talk to the career federal prosecutor that was helping me out with the matter, he didn’t review the FBI reports like I did. He’s just pulling this out of thin air. His position is not tenable it’s fantasy,” Iglesias said.
He added that if Rove was suggesting to O’Reilly he had first hand knowledge of ongoing investigations Iglesias had been conducting then that would be a violation of criminal and/or civil laws.
“That’s privileged law enforcement information. In fact I don’t even think anyone in the White House Counsel’s office, even though they’re lawyers they are not prosecutors, had the right to that information. The only people that had the legal right to review [those cases] are the prosecutors working for the Justice Department, either in Washington, D.C. or out of my office in Albuquerque.
“Let’s assume for a second that he did have access to the FBI reports that is very problematic and it probably violates laws—civil laws and probably some criminal law–in and of itself. Rove’s not an attorney, he’s not a prosecutor and he has the audacity to second guess not only my opinion but the opinion of the career prosecutor who was working on [the cases] with me and the career Justice Department attorney who does nothing but voter fraud? It’s outrageous.”
Rove and Miers testified that they both fielded complaints from Domenici and his chief of staff and Heather Wilson and state Republican Party officials about Iglesias’s “refusal” to prosecute cases of voter fraud and that he was dragging his feet on securing an indictment in a corruption case he was investigating.
But, as documents released by the committee show, those complaints were made in the context of Iglesias’s failure to help Republicans win elections by using his office to prosecute Democrats.
The Judiciary Committee’s report said Rove’s statement to the New York Times and Washington Post that he acted as a “conduit” for complaints about Iglesias are “false.”
“White House emails and the testimony of Rove and Miers establish that Iglesias was targeted for firing no later than May 2005 and that the White House reached a ‘decision’ to fire him by June of that year,” the report said. “This is months earlier than previously known (and more than a year
earlier than originally disclosed to Congress). The documents and testimony also reveal that Rove and his staff personally agitated for Mr. Iglesias to be fired on multiple occasions in 2005 and 2006, and did not act as mere passive ‘conduits’ in this matter.
“This campaign was clearly designed to interfere with Iglesias’ prosecutorial judgment in order to obtain political advantage for Republican candidates. Iglesias himself has explained that the reason he did not bring more vote fraud cases is because ‘the evidence was not there.’”
With regard to Miers, congressional sources said lawmakers would press her to further explain her involvement in a federal corruption investigation into Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi that resulted in the DOJ becoming violating its own internal regulations. Paul Charlton, the U.S. Attorney in Arizona who was one of the nine fired, was investigating Renzi.
The committee’s report said:
“In the weeks before the 2006 election, leaks surfaced indicating that then-Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona was under federal criminal investigation. After a complaint from Scott Jennings of Karl Rove’s office, Harriet Miers called Paul McNulty seeking a statement that would have ‘vindicated’ Renzi.
“Two days later, unnamed Department officials did in fact make several misleading and highly favorable statements to the media on behalf of Mr. Renzi, for example, warning reporters ‘this is not a well-developed investigation, by any means .. . a tip comes into the Department – the Department is obligated to follow up . . . People are assuming there is evidence of some crime, even though that is not necessarily true. . . . I want to caution you not to chop this guy’s (Renzi’s) head off.’ Notwithstanding these statements, which appear to violate Department policy about commenting about pending matters as acknowledged by Miers herself, Renzi has since been indicted.”
When Miers was asked during her testimony whether she thought “it is appropriate for a White House political official . . . to pressure the Department of Justice to make statements about pending investigations for political advantage?” she complained that the question was “very charged.”
When news reports were published quoting unnamed Justice Department sources about the Renzi investigation a wiretap had already been in place. Miers and McNulty could face conspiracy to obstruct justice charges if their involvement hindered Charlton’s investigation into Renzi.
And according to sources working closely with Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor appointed last year by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate whether criminal laws were broken in connection with the firings and whether any of the key players perjured themselves when they testified before Congress, she has evidence that Charlton’s probe was compromised. But it’s unknown if it was the result of Miers’ involvement or other Justice Department officials who played a role in the attorney firings of Charlton and the eight other federal prosecutors.
Charlton’s case file on Renzi contains an unprecedented memo that the former federal prosecutor drafted indicating that he faced difficulty from the Justice Department getting approval to move forward on several fronts involving his probe into Renzi, according to Justice Department sources.
Separately, the documents and e-mails released last week show that White House lawyer William Kelley played a far larger role in the firings than had been previously known. Conyers’ committee may also seek to depose Kelley as well.
In March, after Conyers announced his panel reached an agreement to secure Miers and Rove’s testimony he said, “If the committee uncovers information necessitating his testimony, the committee will also have the right to depose William Kelley, a former White House lawyer who played a role in the U.S. attorney firings.”