House panel votes to cite Rove for contempt
House panel votes to cite Rove for contempt
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer 43 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - A House panel voted Wednesday to cite Karl Rove, formerly President Bush's top aide, for contempt of Congress as its Senate counterpart explored punishment for alleged misdeeds by other administration officials.
But it was not clear that the Democrats controlling a lame-duck Congress will push their case for abuse of power against a lame-duck president beyond televised talk and vague threats just a few weeks shy of final adjournment. As a practical matter, lawmakers have little time and less willingness to follow through on most charges, let alone punishments, before Bush leaves office.
They're finding plenty of time and political purpose, however, for public reviews of what Democrats say is the abuse of power and politicization across the Bush administration. Rove and the Justice Department starred in Wednesday's proceedings.
Voting 20-14 along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee cited Rove with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena to testify July 10 on allegations of improper White House influence over the Justice Department. For his part, Rove has denied any involvement with Justice decisions. The White House has said Congress has no authority to compel testimony from current and former advisers.
The committee decision is only a recommendation; a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would not decide until September whether to bring it to a vote by the full House. If she does and Democrats prevail, Pelosi could then refer the contempt citation to the Justice Department for prosecution. She also could direct the House to file a federal lawsuit against Rove, as she has done with two other Bush confidants who similarly sidestepped their subpoenas: White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former presidential legal counselor Harriet Miers.
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, called the contempt citation "gratuitously punitive" action that would serve no purpose because the question of executive privilege is already pending in federal court.
Indeed, the fate of that suit illustrates the conundrum of lame-duck oversight. Even if a judge rules that the Miers and Bolten case should proceed, it would be resolved long after Bush leaves office.
Across the Capitol, some senators skipped right to what might be done next year by a newly elected Congress likely controlled by a bigger Democratic majority.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard Wednesday from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, who reported earlier in the week that former department officials broke the law by letting administration politics dictate the hiring of prosecutors, immigration judges and career government lawyers.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed Fine to say whether making such a disregard of civil service rules a crime would deter the kind of conduct his investigation uncovered. Fine essentially said no. The Justice Department officials involved, he said, were punished plenty. They were exposed and will probably will never work in federal law enforcement again, he said.
Similar legislation will be considered in the House, but not likely this year.
"I will be asking Chairman Conyers to consider legislation to ensure that the politicization of hiring of career employees at the Justice Department never happens again," Pelosi said in a statement.
Whatever their plans for substantive follow up, Democrats have been busy reviewing what they say are Bush administration misdeeds on serious matters — from Bush's flawed argument for war to the alleged mismanagement of various agencies.
Pelosi threw a bone to members of her caucus who want Bush thrown out of office — even this late in his administration — because they say he misled the nation into the Iraq war.
Long after she declared that impeachment proceedings were "off the table," Pelosi nonetheless agreed to let the Judiciary Committee convene "abuse of power" hearings on Friday. The author of the impeachment resolution, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, testified. But Pelosi made clear there would be no vote.
This week, four Democratic senators demanded that Bush's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Stephen Johnson, resign over whether he had allowed politics to dictate decisions vital to protecting health and the environment. Led by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., they demanded a Justice Department probe into whether Johnson lied to a Senate committee. Through a spokesman, Johnson denied the accusation.
The administrator will "continue to lead this agency undistracted by the Boxer and Whitehouse show," the spokesman said.
"This is simply more election year politicking," sniffed Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. "Nothing more need be said."
Associated Press writer Ben Evans contributed to this report.