Karl Rove, the former close political aide to President Bush, failed to
appear at a congressional hearing Thursday to testify about allegations
he was involved in politicizing the Department of Justice. VOA's Dan
Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
The empty chair in front of the House judiciary subcommittee was a reminder of the difficulty Democrats have had in obtaining testimony from Rove, and two other former and current White House officials.
Last year, former White House counsel Harriet Miers, and President Bush's current chief of staff Joshua Bolten, defied subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee, triggering a House vote to hold both in contempt of Congress.
Rove was subpoenaed earlier this year in connection with Democratic attempts to determine if he exerted improper political influence in the firing of nine U.S. federal prosecutors, and to answer questions about a government corruption case against a former Democratic governor of Alabama.
He offered to speak with lawmakers only about the second of these, and only behind closed doors without a transcript and not under oath, all conditions Democrats rejected. He has denied ever trying to influence Justice Department decisions.
Democratic Congresswoman Linda Sanchez described Rove's justification for not showing up on the basis of a White House claim of executive privilege as lacking legal validity. "We are unaware of any proper legal basis for Mr. Rove's refusal even to appear today as required by the subpoena. The courts have made clear that no one, not even the president, is immune from compulsory process," he said.
Sanchez said the White House failed to demonstrate that information lawmakers seek is covered by executive privilege, and says neither the White House nor Rove's attorney cited any court decision in support of a former official's refusal to testify.
She also pointed to recent testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, and voluntary testimony by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, as well as appearances under subpoena by two former Justice Department officials.
Republicans have long accused Democrats of trying to use the controversy over U.S. attorney firings and allegations of politicization of the Justice Department as a political weapon against President Bush.
Republican Congressman Chris Cannon accuses Democrats of wasting lawmakers time. "If the majority was serious about getting to the bottom of this issue, it would have taken Mr. Rove and the White House up on these offers. The fact that it hasn't, is proof that their efforts amount to a partisan stunt," he said.
As with former White House counsel Miers and chief of staff Bolten, the full House Judiciary Committee will have to decide whether to pursue contempt charges against Rove, after which Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to determine whether to proceed with a vote in the House.