WASHINGTON - Former White House adviser Karl Rove defied a congressional subpoena to testify Thursday about allegations of political pressure at the Justice Department, including whether he tried to influence the prosecution of a former Democratic governor of Alabama.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, chairman of the House subcommittee that called Rove, ruled with backing from fellow Democrats on the panel that Rove's claim of immunity was invalid - perhaps the first step toward holding him in contempt for refusing to cooperate.
Lawmakers subpoenaed Rove in May in an effort to force him to talk about whether he was involved in prosecutors' decisions to pursue cases against Democratic politicians or in the firing of federal prosecutors two years ago.
He had been scheduled to appear at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday morning. A placard with his name sat in front of an empty chair at the witness table, with a handful of protesters sitting behind it calling for Rove to be arrested.
The House already has voted to hold two of President Bush's confidants in contempt for failing to cooperate with its inquiry into whether the administration fired federal prosecutors for political reasons.
The case, involving White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, is now in court. The White House maintains that its staffers' internal communications are confidential.
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was convicted on corruption charges in 2006. Democrats are investigating whether Rove encouraged the Justice Department to pursue the case.
© 2008 Associated Press