When we last left our heroes, House Judiciary committee Democrats had...
renewed their demand that former White House political adviser Karl Rove testify publicly on the politicization of the Justice Department but suggested they may accept a compromise in which Rove would be interviewed in private without taking an oath to tell the truth.
We were, of course, surprised to learn that Judiciary Dems considered this, "an important step forward," and that they were "encouraged by this suggestion."
Why would they say such a thing? Well, the thinking was that the "important step forward" was that Rove's offer didn't specifically preclude the later enforcement of a subpoena to compel sworn testimony, a key difference from a similar "offer" made on behalf of Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten last year. (Yes, they've been in defiance of their subpoenas for over a year now.)
But was it an important step? Well, clearly not that important, because:
Karl Rove has declined to testify before a House Judiciary subcommittee, despite a subpoena directing him to appear, his attorney told the committee on July 1.
Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, cited executive privilege as the reason that the former White House adviser would not appear before the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee on July 10.
As I sarcastically implied, no surprise. And no important step forward, either. The offer to testify off-the-record without precluding later sworn testimony was not, as it turned out, an important change in the White House's position on compliance with Congressional subpoenas, but rather an additional degree of gamesmanship that lawyering up privately (rather than through the White House) allows you to employ. You have your private attorney float an offer that puts daylight between you and the White House's position, let it be hailed as "an important step forward," and then:
respectfully decline to appear before the Subcommittee on July 10 on the grounds that Executive Privilege confers upon him immunity from process to respond to a subpoena directed to this subject.
Voila! You're back to the White House position, and the House Judiciary Committee has to explain why the "important step forward" is now unacceptable.
It's not inexplicable, mind you. The grounds are these: Rove says he'll answer questions about the Don Siegelman matter only, and will refuse to discuss the broader U.S. Attorneys matter. So technically, it's this that the Committee is rejecting as unacceptable.
And it is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it also means the Rove subpoena ends up in limbo with the Miers and Bolten subpoenas, awaiting the outcome of a federal lawsuit filed by the Committee, begging the judicial branch to please allow the legislative branch to conduct oversight of the executive branch. Just as Rove himself said it would, back in May.
So what's next? Well, there's always what some Members of the Judiciary Committee say is next:
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said that the House Judiciary Committee would be willing to arrest Karl Rove if the former White House official doesn't testify about his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.
That sure would go a long way toward making people believe in subpoena power. Not to mention the tantalizing suggestion offered and oft-repeated by certain Members of Congress that the new FISA revisions recently passed by the House still preserve the possibility of criminal prosecution of domestic spying abuses.
It's hard to buy into the criminal liability claim when the House has Rove, Miers and Bolten dead to rights, and... seeks civil relief. Don't you think?