Update at bottom: Obama White House reportedly pushed deal, Bush conversations off the table
The House Judiciary Committee announced late Wednesday afternoon that they had secured the agreement of former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to testify in transcribed depositions under threat of perjury.
The Committee did not immediately announce what terms, if any, had been reached with Rove, but said the agreement had been made with representatives of the former Bush Administration.
They did say that they would get access to Administration documents, and that Rove and Miers had agreed to testify publicly if called. But the announcement left open the possibility that Rove and Miers could testify in private.
"The Committee has also reserved the right to have public testimony from Rove and Miers," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) said in a statement.
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said the agreement was "good news."
The "agreement is good news," Luksin said in an emailed statement. "Mr. Rove looks forward to addressing the Committee's concerns" and is "pleased that the Committee and President Bush were able to resolve their differences."
"Mr. Rove has consistently maintained that he would not assert any personal privileges to refuse to appear or testify, but was required to follow the direction of the President on matters of executive privilege," Luskin added.
Conyers subpoenaed Rove once in 2008 and twice this year. In his statement, he appeared to be open to some claims of executive privilege during the depositions. The Bush Administration had claimed that Rove and Miers were prohibited from testifying by presidential privilege when they were subpoenaed regarding the firings of nine US Attorneys.
"It was agreed that invocations of official privileges would be significantly limited," the release said.
Conyers said he believed the developments are a breakthrough.
"I have long said that I would see this matter through to the end and am encouraged that we have finally broken through the Bush Administration's claims of absolute immunity," he said in a statement. "This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight. It is also a vindication of the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether US Attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom."
The Committee also released other information about the agreement.
"If the Committee uncovers information necessitating his testimony, the Committee will also have the right to depose William Kelley, a former White House lawyer who played a role in the U.S. Attorney firings," the Committee said.
"The Committee will also receive Bush White House documents relevant to this inquiry," they continued. "Under the agreement, the landmark ruling by Judge John Bates rejecting key Bush White House claims of executive immunity and privilege will be preserved. If the agreement is breached, the Committee can resume the litigation."
The House Judiciary Committee Chairman has subpoenaed Rove three times regarding his role in the firings of US Attorneys and his alleged involvement in the prosecution of a former Alabama governor. He failed to show up all three times for scheduled depositions.
Rove has denied any involvement in the Alabama governor's case.
He was also subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, and did not appear.
The House Judiciary Committee's full statement follows.
House Judiciary Committee Secures Rove and Miers Testimony in U.S. Attorney Firings
In an agreement reached today between the former Bush Administration and Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers will testify before the House Judiciary Committee in transcribed depositions under penalty of perjury. The Committee has also reserved the right to have public testimony from Rove and Miers. It was agreed that invocations of official privileges would be significantly limited.
In addition, if the Committee uncovers information necessitating his testimony, the Committee will also have the right to depose William Kelley, a former White House lawyer who played a role in the U.S. Attorney firings.
The Committee will also receive Bush White House documents relevant to this inquiry. Under the agreement, the landmark ruling by Judge John Bates rejecting key Bush White House claims of executive immunity and privilege will be preserved. If the agreement is breached, the Committee can resume the litigation.
Chairman Conyers issued the following statement:
"I have long said that I would see this matter through to the end and am encouraged that we have finally broken through the Bush Administration's claims of absolute immunity. This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight. It is also a vindication of the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether U.S. Attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom."
The following video is from CNN, today, March 4, 2009:
Obama White House reportedly pushed deal, Bush conversations off the table
"The scope of the interviews will be limited to: (1) facts relating to the evaluation of, decision to dismiss, or decision to replace the former U.S. Attorneys in question; the alleged decisions to retain certain U.S. Attorneys; and any allegations of selective prosecution related thereto; and (2) testimony or representations made by Department of Justice officials to Congress on the U.S. Attorneys matter," the 'Agreement Concerning Accomodation' reads. "For the period beginning on March 9, 2007 (the date of the Committee's first written demand for information from the White House), interviews will not include the content of conversations involving: (i) Mr. Rove and members of the White House Counsel's office; or (ii) Ms. Miers and members of the White House Counsel's office. In the case of Mr. Rove, the interview also will include facts relating to the prosecution of Alabama governor Don Siegelman."
TPM asks, "And when can Rove and Miers claim executive privilege?"
"As to official privileges, counsel will direct witnesses not to respond to questions only when questions relate to communications to or from the President or when questions are outside the scope of questioning set forth above," the brokered arrangement states.
Reporting for Newsweek, Michael Isikoff reveals, "President Obama's White House lawyers played a critical behind-the-scenes role in brokering an agreement that requires George W. Bush's former aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to testify before Congress about the mass firings of U.S. attorneys, according to congressional and White House sources."
"Obama's aides were anxious to put a stop to an ongoing court battle over executive privilege that could have backfired on them, said the sources, who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters," Isikoff continues.
Excerpts from Isikoff's Newsweek report:
The active involvement of Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig and his associates in pushing for a settlement shows how stark positions taken during the campaign often look different when a new president has taken office. As a candidate last year, Obama sharply criticized the Bush administration for making sweeping claims of executive privilege to shield testimony about the U.S. attorney firings. "This blanket notion that you can't subpoena White House aides where there's evidence of genuine wrongdoing I think is completely misguided," he said last year.
But if the dispute over executive privilege hadn't been settled by Wednesday night, Obama's lawyers would have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend Rove and Miers in court. The alternative would have been to accept the possibility of a judicial ruling that might have impinged on the confidentiality of their own discussions about sensitive issues should those discussions later become the subject of congressional investigations.
Craig even faced the politically embarrassing prospect of being named (along with Miers and possibly Rove) as a defendant in the court case, given that five boxes of documents about the U.S. attorney firings have been sitting in his office for the past six weeks. Craig became the official custodian of the documents, which have never been made public, after Jan. 20.