Rejecting a compromise offer from ex-White House political adviser Karl Rove, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers issued another subpoena — the third in less than a year — demanding that Rove appear before Congress in 10 days to answer questions about his role in the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys and the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

Seeking to head off the latest subpoena, Rove offered to testify about the Siegelman case – presumably to deny any role in politically targeting the Democratic governor – but continued to refuse to talk about the U.S. Attorney firings, a deal that Conyers deemed unacceptable, according to a letter between Conyers and Rove’s  attorney, Robert Luskin.

“With regard to the request to unilaterally limit Mr. Rove's testimony to the Siegelman matter, as we have previously discussed, I do not believe it is acceptable for the Committee to allow witnesses to unilaterally determine what they can and cannot testify concerning, again absent assertion of a valid privilege,” the Michigan Democrat wrote Luskin on Friday.

“Moreover, the proposed distinction between the Siegelman matter and the U.S. Attorney investigation generally does not appear to be a tenable or viable distinction. They are part and parcel of the same serious concerns about politicization of the U.S. Attorney corps and the Justice Department under the Bush Administration.”

If Rove fails to show up for the scheduled Feb. 23 deposition, the full House will likely vote to hold Rove in contempt, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, during an interview with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann late last month.

"If he refuses to show up, we're going to have to vote a contempt citation," Nadler said.

If Rove were held in contempt, Congress then would refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who presumably would convene a grand jury and seek an indictment. Rove could be arrested if he refused to appear before Congress if ordered to do so at that point, Nadler said.  

"Normal contempt is, you simply arrest him," Nadler added. "The grand jury indicts him, you arrest him for contempt and you put him in jail until he is prepared to testify, to obey the subpoena." Nadler said. Rove can't continue to "thumb his nose at Congress" and refuse to respond to a subpoena.

Renewed Battle

Last month, Conyers made good on a promise to continue probing the U.S. Attorney firings by issuing a new subpoena to Rove, who is believed to have played a major role in the decision to remove U.S. Attorneys who fell out of favor with George W. Bush’s White House as not “loyal Bushies.”

The subpoena called for Rove to provide testimony on Feb. 2. But Luskin requested a delay until Feb. 23 because he said he was going to be out of town. Luskin also said he needed additional time to work with President Barack Obama's new White House Counsel Greg Craig

Recently, Luskin asked for yet another delay, which Conyers denied, indicating that he believes the request is a stall tactic to keep Rove from testifying before Congress.

Luskin was out of town Friday and was unavailable for comment. Rove was on a hunting trip Friday and did not return calls or e-mail messages for comment.
The fight over the Rove subpoena is expected to be a test of Bush’s broad claims of executive privilege that the ex-President is attempting to extend into his post-presidency.

Facing Conyers’s continued demands for Rove’s testimony, Luskin produced a letter written on Jan. 16 —four days before Bush left office — by Fred Fielding, Bush’s former White House counsel, directing Rove and other former Bush administration advisers to ignore subpoenas. Fielding said Rove is "absolutely immune" from compelled congressional testimony even though Bush is no longer President.

In his last years in office, Bush succeeded in frustrating congressional inquiries by asserting a sweeping interpretation of executive privilege, a tradition that grants some confidentiality for advice between the President and his top aides. Bush expanded the scope of the privilege to include even discussions among his subordinates inside and outside the White House.

In September 2008, U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected Bush’s position, saying the concept of blanket executive privilege lacked legal precedent.

“The Executive cannot identify a single judicial opinion that recognizes absolute immunity for senior presidential advisors in this or any other context,” wrote Bates, a Bush appointee. "In fact, there is Supreme Court authority that is all but conclusive on this question and that powerfully suggests that such advisors do not enjoy absolute immunity.”

However, Bush’s lawyers appealed Bates’s ruling to a Republican-dominated Appeals Court panel in Washington that relied on a technicality – the looming adjournment of the 110th Congress – to declare the issue moot.

Last year, Rove also attempted an end-around against Democratic leaders by having his denial of sponsoring Siegelman’s prosecution inserted into the Congressional Record by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican.

In written responses to questions from Smith, Rove denied speaking to anyone “either directly or indirectly” at the Justice Department or to Alabama state officials about bringing corruption charges against Siegelman.

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 a new trial or a dismissal.

Siegelman has long maintained that Rove was intimately involved in the prosecution as part of a strategy to blunt Democratic southern inroads that Siegelman’s governorship represented.

Jason Leopold has launched his own Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.

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