WASHINGTON - After years of silence, top Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove went on a public relations offensive Thursday, saying he did nothing wrong in the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys and that soon-to-be-released White House documents and his closed-door congressional testimony will bear that out.
Rove's comments, made through his lawyer, Robert Luskin, prompted immediate charges of foul play by congressional Democrats, who accused him of sidestepping an agreement not to discuss his two days of closed-door testimony about the firings before the House Judiciary Committee.
That testimony, which wrapped up Thursday, came only after a protracted legal battle during which Rove and some other senior Bush administration officials refused to testify for the congressional inquiry. The Bush administration had said the probe was a partisan witch-hunt by congressional Democrats who believed the top prosecutors were fired because they refused to go along with the Republican political agenda.
As a compromise, Rove agreed to field questions from one congressman and one staff lawyer from each party. Also in the room were various staff members and lawyers from congressional leaders, the Bush and Obama White House staffs and the Justice Department, which appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the firings for possible criminal violations.
Bush administration officials have defended their actions -- and Rove's -- saying that he was merely passing along complaints from some Republicans about various U.S. attorneys, particularly David Iglesias in New Mexico, Bud Cummins in Arkansas and Missouri's Todd Graves.
Until Thursday, however, Rove had declined to comment, Luskin said. But he made prearranged deals with The New York Times and Washington Post to see some of his e-mails. He also gave interviews with both newspapers in which he insisted he had done nothing wrong.
There were few if any disclosures in the e-mails or interviews. For the most part, Rove claimed, as the White House did earlier, that he was providing political guidance about larger policy issues, and interested in helping put the best people into prosecutor positions that were either already open or about to become open.
Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee said their negotiated agreement prohibited any of the parties from discussing any details until everything was officially released.
"It's hardly surprising that Mr. Rove would minimize his involvement in the U.S. attorney firings or that selectively leaked documents would serve his version of events," committee spokesman Jonathan Godfrey said in a statement.