How Rove Said He’d Answer Siegelman Prosecution Queries
Saturday 11 July 2009
Karl Rove continues to be a subject of congressional investigations. (Photo: Getty Images)
While the details of Karl Rove’s eight-hour deposition Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee remain unknown, Rove has provided insight into how he said he intended to answer the panel’s questions. The deposition concerned Rove’s role in the firings of nine US attorneys and the alleged political prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.
In March, during a little-known interview on Fox News, where Rove is a contributor, Rove told Chris Wallace that he has already responded to questions about Siegelman’s prosecution and has posted his answers to written questions on his web site, Rove.com.
“My understanding is I am going to be questioned both about the US attorneys [dismissals] and about the allegations that I was responsible for the prosecution of Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman … a lot of these answers, particularly with regard to Siegelman, are already on my web site,” Rove said in the March 8 interview.
Last December, Rove obtained a copy of an e-mail Siegelman had sent to his supporters who contributed to his legal defense fund. Rove blogged about it under a headline in which he portrayed himself as a victim: “Personal Responsibility: Who Needs It When You Can Blame Karl Rove?” www.rove.com/notes?page=4 (sixth item down from the top).
“Below is a fundraising letter sent out by Friends of Don Siegelman 2008. Despite that it has no basis in fact, I thought you might find it amusing. In case you’re interested, visit these links for the facts,” Rove wrote.
Rove then posted links to four documents on his web site, one of which was his response to questions posed to him last July by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Smith, the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, has been a vocal critic of the panel’s chairman John Conyers’s attempts to force Rove to comply with numerous congressional subpoenas about the firings of federal prosecutors and the prosecution of Siegelman. Rove subsequently defied the subpoenas on executive privilege grounds.
Smith sent a letter to Rove’s longtime attorney, Robert Luskin, on July 15, 2008, excoriating Conyers for not accepting an offer to have Rove respond to questions about the Siegelman prosecution in a private setting and not under oath. Smith did not inform Conyers or other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee that he had sent the letter.
“The Committee’s goal should not be the unnecessary persecution of witnesses with compulsory congressional process and needless contempt proceedings,” Smith wrote. “Because written answers to written questions about the Siegelman matter would serve the Committee’s proper objective, I am accepting by this letter your offer to provide those answers.”
About a week later, during a committee hearing on the matter last year, while Conyers and other Democrats were considering whether to hold Rove in contempt, Smith announced that he had obtained Rove’s responses to lingering questions about his alleged role in Siegelman’s prosecution. Smith then submitted the written question-and-answer exchange with Rove into the Congressional record.
In a July 22, 2008, letter accompanying Rove’s response to Smith’s questions, Rove’s longtime attorney, Robert Luskin, wrote:
“As you know, Mr. Rove has never asserted any personal privileges in response to the Committee’s subpoena, but remains obligated to follow the direction of the President. We simply cannot understand the Committee’s interest in provoking a confrontation with Mr. Rove while the precise legal issue that is presented by his subpoena is subject to a pending action in District Court.
“We have struggled instead to find a method by which Mr. Rove could answer the Committee’s questions while at the same time respecting the prerogatives of the President. We thank you for providing such an opportunity, and we trust that Mr. Rove’s answers will assist the Committee in resolving these utterly unfounded allegations.”
Claims that Rove never asserted “personal privileges” is a familiar line Luskin has used as recently as February, when Conyers subpoenaed Rove for the third time this year to try to compel him to testify about Siegelman’s prosecution and the US attorney firings. In March, Conyers’s committee, with the help of White House Counsel Gregory Craig, brokered a deal that resulted in Rove agreeing to testify before the committee privately.
But Rove indicated during his Fox News interview that he doesn’t intend to stray from the responses to questions he had already provided to Smith, which were clearly written to elicit denials from Rove about his involvement in Siegelman’s prosecution.
In his written responses to Smith’s 14 questions, Rove denied speaking to anyone “either directly or indirectly” at the Justice Department or to Alabama state officials about bringing corruption charges against Siegelman.
“I have never communicated, either directly or indirectly, with Justice Department or Alabama officials about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of Governor Siegelman, or about any other matter related to his case, nor have I asked any other individual to communicate about these matters on my behalf,” Rove wrote. “I have never attempted, either directly or indirectly, to influence these matters.”
Rove responded to eight other questions with the exact same response.
Rove said the Judiciary Committee should press Siegelman to justify his allegations about Rove’s interference in the case.
“The committee should require Siegelman to substantiate his allegations about my ‘involvement’ in his prosecution – something he has failed to do in either media interviews or court filings,” Rove wrote.
Siegelman was convicted of corruption in 2006, but was released from prison on bond in March 2008 after an appeals court ruled that “substantial questions” about the case could very well result in either a new trial or a dismissal. In March, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld Siegelman’s bribery conviction but threw out two lesser charges. The panel ordered a new sentencing date for the former governor, who has been urging Attorney General Eric Holder to look into specific evidence that would appear to suggest that he was the victim of a partisan witch hunt.
In an interview with The Anniston Star on May 18, 2008, Siegelman said Rove first targeted him in 1998.
“It started when Karl Rove’s bag man, I call him, [disgraced lobbyist] Jack Abramoff, started putting Indian casino money into Alabama to defeat me in 1998,” Siegelman told the newspaper. “Shortly after I endorsed Al Gore in 1999, Karl Rove’s client, the attorney general of Alabama (Bill Pryor) started an investigation.
“In 2001, Karl Rove’s business associate and political partner’s wife, Leura Canary, became a US Attorney and started a federal investigation…. It started with the attorney general and the state investigation, followed by the federal investigation, followed by indictments in 2004, and then another series of indictments leading up to the 2006 election … but, yeah, it’s all part of the same case.”
In March when a US Appeals Court upheld many of the corruption charges against Siegelman, Rove once again directed his supporters to the documents on his web site containing his answers to Smith’s questions about the matter.
“Honoring the President’s executive privilege and acting with White House approval, Karl Rove responded to Judiciary Committee questions about the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman,” Rove wrote.
Conyers did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
When his panel reached an agreement with Rove on March 5, Conyers said, “I am determined to have it known whether US attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for improper political reasons, and if so, by whom.”
In a statement released to NBC News Tuesday Luskin said, “The agreement setting up the interviews contemplated that they would remain entirely confidential until all the interviews were complete. Out of respect for that term of the agreement, Mr. Rove is not commenting.”
Jason Leopold is editor in chief of The Public Record, www.pubrecord.org.