Leahy report justifies Rove contempt; possibility of charges remains murky
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday November 18, 2008

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The Senate Judiciary Committee is releasing a 60-page report justifying its contempt of Congress citations aimed at Karl Rove and other Bush administration figures, but the chances the Senate will actually vote to pursue criminal charges are slim.

The contempt citations stem from the committee's investigation of the US Attorney firing scandal. Rove, who resigned last year from his White House post, and Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, among others, refused to comply with subpoenas demanding testimony and documents related to the committee's investigation of the politically motivated attorney firings.

Bolten and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, already are fighting contempt charges issued by the House after they snubbed subpoenas from that chamber's parallel investigation of the attorney firing. Leahy has not said whether he will continue to push for criminal charges from the Senate after Bush leaves office next year, but he vowed to continue working to fix abuses within the Justice Department.

"This administration has repeatedly rejected the constitutional oversight role of Congress," Leahy said in a press release accompanying the report. "The Bush administration’s days may be numbered, but the next Attorney General and the next Congress have much work to do to restore accountability and independence to the United States Department of Justice."

The Judiciary Committee report (.pdf) corroborates the findings of an earlier investigation conducted by the Justice Department's Inspector General and Office of Professional Accountability. Investigators found that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other Department officials acted improperly and pursued political goals in seeking the dismissal of at least two dozen federal prosecutors. Nine US Attorneys were eventually fired.

The report says the committee's investigation requires information that only officials like Rove and Bolten could provide.

"The White House’s unsubstantiated blanket claims of privilege and novel claims of immunity do not trump the Committee’s well-established need for the information it has sought about the firings and do not excuse current and former White House officials from complying with the Committee’s subpoenas," it reads.

Whether Leahy continues to pursue a full vote on the contempt citations after President Bush leaves office in January remains to be seen, committee spokeswoman Erica Chabot tells RAW STORY. There are lingering questions over whether a contempt resolution passed this session could still be brought up for a vote when the next session of Congress begins in January.

The Senate will briefly convene for a lame-duck session this week, when the full chamber could theoretically vote to hold Rove and Bolten in contempt, although Chabot says such a scenario seems unlikely. A leadership aide likewise says the lame duck session will focus primarily on the ongoing financial crisis and efforts to achieve a bailout for the auto industry.