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Obama Tested on Executive Privilege as Karl Rove is Subpoenaed (Again) Over Shady Dealings at DOJ

Former AL Gov. Don Siegelman: "This is far more important than my case or Karl Rove. This is about restoring justice and preserving our democracy."
 
 
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Amy Goodman: The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, has subpoenaed former White House adviser Karl Rove to testify next week about the Bush administration's firing of nine U.S. attorneys and the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. This marks the second time Conyers has tried to get Rove to appear in connection with what he calls the Bush administration's politicization of the Justice Department. But it remains unclear if Rove will be compelled to appear before the panel next week.

Rove previously refused to appear before the committee, contending that former presidential advisers cannot be compelled to testify before Congress. For more than a year, former president George W. Bush upheld Rove's legal position. The White House's assertion of executive privilege prompted Rove and other Bush aides to refuse even to show up for a hearing. A federal judge has since rejected that position. Karl Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said he would consult with President Obama's White House counsel to determine the Obama administration's stance.

In a press release announcing the subpoena, Conyers was hopeful, saying, "Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it's time for him to talk."

Scott Horton has been closely following this story. He is a New York attorney specializing in international law and human rights and the legal affairs contributor to Harper's Magazine, where he blogs at No Comment. He joins us in the firehouse studio.

We're also joined by former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, whose case is at the heart of the controversy. He was convicted of corruption and bribery and served nine months in prison before an appeals court ordered his release last year after finding substantial problems with the case. He joins us from Birmingham, Alabama.

Scott, let's begin with you. Talk about the significance of Karl Rove being subpoenaed, to begin with, and then lay out the issues that Chairman Conyers has issued the subpoena around.

Scott Horton: Well, I think it's a test at the beginning of the new administration of its commitment to transparency, and it also presents a challenge to them about what to do with the pervasive claims of privilege that were used by the Bush administration to block congressional probes. And during the campaign and afterwards, President Obama stated that he was going to adopt transparency as a keynote. He criticized the positions the Bush administration took, and I think that will be put to the test right now.

In fact, Bob Luskin has already stated that he will contact Greg Craig, and he will ask for guidance as to what posture should be taken with respect to executive privilege. Now, there's sort of a wrinkle here that's interesting, and that is that Greg Craig, who is Barack Obama's White House counsel, is also a friend of Karl Rove, something he's talked about openly, and his law firm, Williams & Connolly -- his former law firm, I should say -- represented Karl Rove with respect to some publication deals. So that presents a bit of a complication.

AG: Do you think he should recuse himself?

SH: I think it's quite problematic for him to involve himself in this, given that relationship, so probably other lawyers in the President's staff should be addressing this.

But I think the threshold issue is very clear, and that is whether or not the White House is going to say, "No, you don't even have to answer this subpoena." We have a district court judge saying that was an absurd position. Indeed, I'd say that's pretty much the uniform position in the legal community. It was an absurd position. So he will have to respond to the subpoena. He will have to sit in the hearings, and he'll have to respond to questions.