WASHINGTON - The House Judiciary Committee yesterday subpoenaed former President Bush's former chief political adviser, Karl Rove, to testify about whether the White House improperly meddled with the Justice Department.
Accusations that politics influenced decisions at the department led to last year's resignation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
It is unclear whether Rove will ever be forced to testify. The White House refuses to let him or other top aides testify about private conversations with Bush, citing executive privilege to block Congress' demands.
The subpoena orders Rove to appear before the House panel July 10. Lawmakers want to ask him about the White House's role in firing nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. had negotiated with Rove's attorneys for more than a year over whether he would testify voluntarily.
"It is unfortunate that Mr. Rove has failed to cooperate with our requests," Conyers (D., Mich.) said in a statement. "Although he does not seem the least bit hesitant to discuss these very issues weekly on cable television and in the print news media, Mr. Rove and his attorney have apparently concluded that a public hearing room would not be appropriate."
Conyers said he had "no choice today but to compel his testimony on these very important matters."
Rove, who does political analysis for Fox News, and his attorney, Robert Luskin, declined to comment.
In a letter Wednesday to the House panel, Luskin called the then-threatened subpoena a "gratuitous confrontation." He said Rove was willing to talk to congressional investigators, but only behind closed doors and without a transcript being made.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also authorized subpoenaing Rove, who did not show up to testify. Senate Democratic leaders, not anxious to pick a difficult political fight in an election year, did not plan to seek a vote on whether to hold Rove in contempt of Congress.
Luskin wrote of the House committee's subpoena that "it is hard to see what this will accomplish, apart from a Groundhog Day replay of the same issues that are already the subject of litigation."
The White House called the subpoena "political theater." Spokesman Tony Fratto said the White House would review it and "respond at the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum."
Conyers also released a May 5 letter detailing the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility's investigation into whether Siegelman was the target of "selective, politically motivated prosecutions."
The office, the department's internal ethics board, also has been investigating whether politics played a part in the firing of the nine U.S. attorneys.