The heat is on the Justice Department, again. Times three.
Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, yesterday wrote a letter to former White House senior aide Karl Rove asking him to testify before the committee about his knowledge of Democrats who were allegedly selectively prosecuted under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Seizing on the case of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who was released from prison a few weeks while appealing a bribery conviction, Conyers requested that Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility and its Office of Inspector General investigate “allegations of selective, politically-motivated prosecution” by the department in recent years. In addition, Conyers and other committee members are urging Attorney General Michael Mukasey to release records pertaining to these prosecutions. The department has previously refused to release documents in the Siegelman case.
One of the other cases drawing scrutiny involves Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic scientist being defended by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Wecht’s fraud trial ended in a hung jury earlier this month. Thornburgh, a Republican who served under President George W. Bush’s father, has personally appealed to Mukasey to review the case.
“The Justice Department has simply not been forthcoming, and I feel the only way to move this investigation forward is to seek further independent investigation and testimony from Karl Rove, who appears to be the missing link in a chain from the White House to the Justice Department,” Conyers said in a statement accompanying a 40-page report on alleged selective prosecutions.
Peter Carr, a Justice spokesman, says Mukasey has "made clear" in speeches that that "politics has no role in the investigation or prosecution of political corruption or any other criminal offense."
Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney at Patton Boggs, has previously said his client will testify before Congress if subpoenaed in the Siegelman case. But yesterday, Luskin told reporters that his client may have to clear his appearance with White House officials first because of questions over executive privilege.
Sound familiar? Well, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten last year ignored subpoenas to appear before the same Judiciary Committee at the urging of the White House. They now await the outcome of an unprecedented suit filed against them by the House last month.
Separately, Conyers also is charging ahead with a May 6 hearing to explore the development of the legal underpinnings for Bush’s detainee and interrogation policies. On April 14, he sent out letters to six current and former administration officials to invite them to offer testimony after ABC News reported that senior White House officials — including Cabinet-level officials -- personally approved harsh interrogation methods as part of a CIA program.
The invitees are former CIA Director George Tenet, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, former Office of Legal Counsel acting chief Daniel Levin, former Office of Legal Counsel deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo, and David Addington, the current chief of staff to the vice president.
Lastly, Conyers is demanding that Mukasey release the Oct. 23, 2001, legal opinion, authored by Yoo, that said the Fourth Amendment -- which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures -- does not apply to “domestic military operations.”
At an April 10 hearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Mukasey pledged to work toward releasing that opinion and others that are under review. The document was referenced in a footnote in a separate 2003 Justice Department memo — since withdrawn -- that asserted vast presidential powers and authorized harsh military interrogations. The 2003 opinion was publicly released April 1 after a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and demands from Congress.