The House Judiciary Committee pressed its investigation of possible political influence in Justice Department prosecutions on Thursday by issuing a subpoena to Karl Rove, the former chief political operative at the Bush White House.
Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the committee chairman, said the subpoena was necessary because Mr. Rove had explicitly declined an invitation to appear voluntarily. Mr. Conyers and fellow committee Democrats say they want to question Mr. Rove about the dismissals of several federal prosecutors and ask whether he knows anything about the decision to prosecute former Gov. Donald E. Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat.
Mr. Siegelman, who was convicted on a bribery charge, was released from prison in March pending an appeal after an appeals court ruled that he had raised "substantial questions" about his case.
Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, in a letter to Mr. Conyers this week, said the chairman was "provoking a gratuitous confrontation." Mr. Luskin asserted that Mr. Rove would not appear because he had been directed not to do so by the White House. Although Mr. Rove has left the White House and is now a political commentator, Mr. Luskin said that Mr. Rove "in these matters is not a free agent" and must comply with instructions from the White House not to testify.
Mr. Conyers has argued that Mr. Rove may not himself invoke any privilege on behalf of the White House but that President Bush could do so.
Mr. Rove's lawyer also noted that the House committee was engaged in a similar conflict with Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, who has also declined to provide voluntary testimony about the dismissals of the federal prosecutors and has defied a subpoena. That issue has landed in federal court, and Mr. Luskin said the Rove matter should await the resolution of that case.
Mr. Conyers, in a letter to Mr. Luskin on Thursday, said that the request to Mr. Rove was wider than the one to Ms. Miers because it also sought information about the Siegelman prosecution.
Several Democrats have asserted that Mr. Siegelman's prosecution was encouraged for political reasons by Republicans in Washington. Mr. Siegelman served nine months of a seven-year sentence before being released pending an appeal.
Mr. Rove has denied any role in the Siegelman prosecution in comments to journalists, but Mr. Conyers is seeking to put him under oath. The subpoena demands that Mr. Rove appear before the committee on July 10.
If he does not appear, as expected, House Democrats will have to consider issuing a contempt citation as they did for Ms. Miers.
© 2008 The New York Times