Rove, Miers to Testify... Behind Closed Doors

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McClatchy Newspapers

Rove, Miers to Testify... Behind Closed Doors

by
Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev

Karl Rove (pictured on the right with former President Bush) and Harriet Miers will provide private interviews for an investigation on Justice Dept. (File photo)

WASHINGTON — Former top Bush aides Karl Rove and
Harriet Miers have agreed to testify behind closed doors to the House
Judiciary Committee about the sudden firings of nine U.S. attorneys in
2006.

The arrangement, announced Wednesday, is a
compromise in the long-running constitutional battle between the Bush
administration and Democrats and is expected to spare the Obama White
House from having to get involved.

While
the testimony will be under "penalty of perjury" as House Democrats
demanded, Miers and Rove won't have to answer the committee's questions
in an open hearing.

No date for the testimony was announced.

The
committee, however, has reserved the right to require public testimony
from Rove and Miers. Both sides also agreed that assertions of official
privileges would be "significantly limited" and the depositions will be
transcribed, according to the committee. Under terms of the agreement,
the committee will make public all of the transcripts upon completion
of the last interviews.

Democrats hope that Miers and Rove will
answer questions about the Bush White House's role in the firings and
whether prosecutors were improperly targeted for bucking the
administration.

"This is a victory for the separation of powers
and congressional oversight," said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the
chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "It is also a vindication of
the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether U.S.
attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political
reasons, and if so, by whom."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the
chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the agreement but
said, "it should not have taken until now," in a swipe at the previous
administration.

The deal was reached after a lawyer for former
Bush political adviser Rove asked the White House to referee his clash
with the House of Representatives over Rove's claim of executive
privilege in the matter.

White House Counsel Greg Craig praised
the agreement Wednesday, saying it will allow the committee to complete
its investigation, which he called "in the interest of the American
people."

"And it will do so in the way such disputes have
historically been resolved — through negotiation and accommodation
between the legislative and executive branches," he said in a statement.

Members
of the committee have been seeking the testimony of Rove and Miers
since the spring of 2007. The committee filed suit against Miers and
former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten last year to compel
Miers' testimony and force Bolten to hand over documents.

The
controversy was sparked by the firings and a little-noticed change in
the USA Patriot Act that allowed the Justice Department to install
replacement U.S. attorneys without seeking congressional approval.

Congressional
Democrats launched an investigation into the firings after they grew
suspicious that the prosecutors had been ousted inappropriately because
several either hadn't pursued voter fraud cases against Democrats or
because they investigated Republican politicians on corruption charges.

Separately,
a special prosecutor is investigating what role White House officials
had in the firings and whether their involvement constituted a crime.

The
Bush White House, which had denied that the firings were retaliatory or
improper, based its executive privilege position on legal guidance from
the Justice Department that concluded it would violate the
constitutional separation of powers to compel testimony from White
House aides.

The department also has maintained since 1984 that
it isn't bound to enforce a congressional contempt citation against an
administration official who, under presidential orders, defies a
congressional subpoena on grounds of executive privilege.

However,
a federal judge in Washington agreed with the House that Miers didn't
have the right to ignore the subpoena from Congress. District Judge
John D. Bates' 93-page ruling was considered a significant setback for
the Bush administration, which had asserted a broad executive-privilege
claim that would've protected Miers from appearing.

The U.S.
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit later delayed the
effect of the ruling until after November's elections.

As part of
the agreement announced Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee also
will receive Bush White House documents relevant to the inquiry. Under
the agreement, Bates' ruling "will be preserved," according to the
committee. If the agreement is breached, the committee can resume the
litigation.

The committee also reserved the right to depose William Kelley, a former White House lawyer who played a role in the firings.

Although
Rove isn't named in the lawsuit, the House continued to demand his
appearance. In recent months, Rove's attorney indicated that his client
would be willing to testify about his role in the prosecution and
conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, on bribery
charges. Democrats wanted Rove to testify about the matter because they
suspect that he instigated the prosecution.

However, Democrats
also insist that Rove should be made to testify about the firings.
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, didn't return calls.

In
September, the Justice Department's Inspector General and Office of
Professional Responsibility found "substantial evidence" that partisan
politics played a role in several of the ousters and accused former
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of abdicating his responsibility to
safeguard the independence of the department. Gonzales resigned during
the controversy.

The report also concluded that White House
officials were more involved in the firings than the administration
initially admitted. However, the report also said that investigators
were impeded from resolving questions about the White House's actions
because several former and current Bush aides, including Rove, refused
to cooperate with his investigation.

Earlier, McClatchy reported
that the New Mexico Republican Party chairman urged Rove to fire the
state's U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, in part because of
dissatisfaction with his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud
investigation in the state.

Internal e-mails released during the
controversy show that Miers initially proposed firing all 93 U.S.
attorneys, but then-attorney general aide Kyle Sampson worked with her
and others to narrow the list to nine.

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