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Rove’s Answers Don’t Satisfy Lawmakers

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/09/rove.jpgKarl Rove (WDCpix)

After nearly a year of evasions, Karl Rove has finally– at least in a written reply to a GOP congressman– categorically denied involvement in the prosecution of Don Siegelman.

A House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday revealed that Rove provided Lamar Smith, (R-Tex.), the ranking Republican on the committee, written responses to questions about the high-profile Siegelman prosecution. Siegelman, a Democrat who served as Alabama governor from 1998 to 2002, was sentenced in June 2007 to 88 months in prison on bribery charges. A federal court of appeals granted Seigelman’s release in March, while he appeals.

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/politics.jpgIllustration by: Matt Mahurin

Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer active in the state Republican Party, told the judiciary committee last October that Rove personally instructed the Justice Dept. to re-open a probe into Seigelman. Simpson told 60 Minutes in February that Rove asked her to take pictures of Siegelman in “a compromising sexual position.”

Rove’s denials include the assertion that he’s never met Simpson. For former top White House political adviser also cites a Weekly Standard article that attacks Simpson’s credibility.

These denials break new ground in the back-and-forth between Rove and Congressional investigators. For Republicans, it likely signals the end of their look into Rove. But the answers probably won’t satisfy judiciary committee Democrats. They are demanding that Rove stop citing executive privilege, honor a Congressional subpoena and make his denials in sworn, public testimony. If Rove doesn’t, the man whom President George W. Bush called “the architect” could be held in criminal contempt.

“The written answers are not we’re looking for,” said Sarah-Kate Sullivan, spokeswoman for Rep. Arthur Davis (D-Al.), who has played a leading role in Congress’s investigation of the Siegelman prosecution. “We need live, personal testimony.”

Sullivan added that the judiciary committee expects Rove to testify this Wednesday. John Conyers, (D-Mi.), the committee chairman, has vowed that the committee may otherwise vote to hold Rove in contempt of Congress.

Rove has said he doesn’t have to testify because Bush has granted him executive privilege. But executive privilege is usually asserted to protect candid policy discussion between the president and his closest advisers — not political advice.

The committee Democrats assert that Rove wouldn’t be answering questions about presidential policy deliberations. He would be testifying on whether he had discussions about the Siegelman case with the Justice Dept. and Alabama GOP officials. Conyers disparaged Rove’s unique executive privilege claim at the hearing Wednesday, saying that the White House, “has an unprecedented concept of granting total immunity for Karl Rove.”

Wednesday was hardly the first time Conyers has demanded Rove’s testimony. Asked in May what he wants Rove to testify about, Conyers said, “We want him for so many things, it’s hard to keep track.”

But since Simpson provided a sworn statement to the House Judiciary Committee last October, Conyers has focused on Rove’s role in the Siegelman prosecution. Simpson said that in December 2004 Robert Riley, the governor of Alabama both now and in 2004, and William Canary, a Republican Party operative in Alabama, contacted Rove and asked him to re-open a criminal prosecution of Siegelman. Simpson said that Rove complied, instructing the Justice Dept’s Public Integrity Office to re-open the case.

In October 2005, Siegelman was indicted on 32 counts of corruption. These centered on whether Richard Scrushy, a prominent Alabama health-care executive, gave $500,000 to an education lottery campaign fund supported by Siegelman in return for a spot on a state hospital regulatory board — which Scrushy had served on under the three previous Alabama GOP governors. In June 2006– while running against Riley to reclaim his gubernatorial seat — a jury convicted Siegelman on seven bribery and fraud charges.

This February, Simpson added to her account of Rove’s influence in Alabama politics, telling CBS’s “60 Minutes” that Rove directed her to take pictures that caught Siegelman in an affair. Simpson said that she had met Rove through her work on several campaigns for Alabama Republicans, including Riley.

Since Siegelman left prison in March, he has repeatedly asserted that Rove likely interfered with his case. In response to these charges, Rove initially indicated that he wanted to give Congress his side of the story. But he has refused several requests to testify. He was served a subpoena, but did not appear even then.

In his written answers, Rove denies ever meeting with Justice Dept. or Alabama officials about the investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction and sentencing of Siegelman. He also displays pointed skepticism about Simpson’s credibility. His questioning of Simpson is largely based on a May 26 Weekly Standard article, “A Conspiracy So Lunatic..Only “60 Minutes” could fall for it.”

The quoted passages include a description of Simpson, from other Alabama lawyers, as “an unusual woman” who “has scratched out an uncertain living in DeKalb County, Ala.” The Weekly Standard piece also says there’s no evidence that Simpson was actively involved in GOP political campaigns.

Another Weekly Standard argument that Rove uses involves allegations that he ordered Siegelman spied on. Rove notes that this allegation by Simpson didn’t make it into Simpson’s judiciary committee testimony. Simpson previously said this is because the committee judged it irrelevant.

For Smith, the Texas Republican, Rove’s answers ought to put the Siegelman case to rest. “House Democrats accuse Rove of politicizing the Justice Dept.,” Smith said in a statement, “But it is they who have abused their authority and politicized the work of Congress.”

Even in his retirement, Rove is rallying Republicans against Congressional Democrats.

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