Rove in Contempt of Congress?

Having chosen not to vote on offshore drilling and take a huge step toward relieve the gasoline price burden every American feels, the House recessed for its August vacation yesterday. But before it did, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers managed to accomplish something that is far more important to the House leadership than dealing with the most urgent problem now affecting American voters.

Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee voted to hold former top White House aide Karl Rove in contempt of Congress for refusing to show up at a July 10 hearing on flimsy allegations that he’d instigated the Justice Department’s prosecution of former Alabama Democratic Gov. Don Seigelman.

One of the reasons Rove refused to attend the hearing was that a case was pending in US district court over whether Harriett Miers, Josh Bolton (and, implicitly, Rove) were protected from even attending Conyers’ hearings by executive privilege. Today, the court ruled that they are not protected from having to appear.

Despite the fact that this ruling will surely be appealed — and unresolved for many months — Rove and the others may, if the House votes to do so when it returns in September, be held in contempt, arrested and imprisoned. But that would not serve the Dems’ purpose. More likely is that Conyers will get to stage his media event.

The issue arose because Conyers wants a public witch burning. The idea is to have Rove and the others sit at a witness table — with all the network cameras pointed at them, reporters hanging on every word — to be verbally bludgeoned by Conyers and his crew. That Rove would be able to say almost nothing — because executive privilege does apply to White House inner deliberations — is irrelevant. There’s no purpose in Conyers’ maneuver other than to produce fodder for the networks’ nightly news and the New York Times editorial page.

Congressional show trials are all this is about: Conyers has no intent to discover criminal action. But if you can’t impeach the president — and only Dennis Kucinich and his tinfoil-hatted followers still demand that — the next best thing is to host an auto-da-fé with Rove playing the role of the goose to be cooked.

The one problem is that the allegations against Rove — as HUMAN EVENTS sees in a number of documents related to the matter, including sworn affidavits of many of the key people — aren’t worth the electrons that would be used to broadcast the hearing.

For months Conyers’ has demanded that Rove (and former White House counsel Harriett Miers, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton and others) testify under oath on a series of allegations regarding various alleged horrors.

Conyers’ pursuit of Rove stems from an allegation that he instigated, plotted, planned and brought about the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Seigelman. Seigelman was convicted of federal funds bribery, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and obstruction of justice. (His case is on appeal.)

Comes then one Dana Jill Simpson, a lawyer and past acquaintance of Bob Riley. Riley defeated Siegelman in 2002 gubernatorial race. Riley won by a small margin — about 3100 votes — so Siegelman began legal action to force a recount.

Among the people involved with Riley’s campaign were former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Lucas Butts (a Democrat), Mr. Bill Canary, and another lawyer, Matthew Lembke. Simpson has told Conyers’ staff that in a November 18, 2002 conference call in which Riley’s son Bob, Butts and Lembke participated, in which some or all of them plotted that Seigelman would be threatened with federal prosecution if he didn’t concede the election. Simpson maintains that “Karl” — Rove — was referred to in this conversation as having spoken to (or gone to) the Justice Department to arrange the Seigelman prosecution.

And, in interviews with CBS’ 60 Minutes Simpson told Scott Pelly that while Seigelman was governor, Rove asked her to follow Seigelman around to get photographs of him in “…a compromising sexual position.” She also said Rove had asked her for other “intelligence” before that.

In addition to Simpson’s statements, convicted former governor Seigelman has also made statements about Rove being involved in concocting the case against him.

The only problem with Simpson’s and Siegelman’s statements — which comprise the entire foundation for Conyers’ pursuit of Rove — is that there is not a shred of evidence to corroborate them.

HUMAN EVENTS has copies of sworn affidavits of Riley, Lembke and Butts denying that the conversation ever took place. Conyers also has those documents, and more.

We also have a copy of the September 4, 2007 letter to Conyers from Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski informing Conyers that after searching Justice Department documents, there were no documents discovered relating to three cases Conyers asked about showing there was political interference. One of those cases is, of course, United States v. Don Seigelman which Simpson says Rove arranged.

And we have the statement of Acting US Attorney Louis Franklin, Sr. of the Middle District of Alabama, whose team prosecuted Seigelman. In it, Franklin says:

I can, however, state with absolute certainty that the entire story is misleading because Karl Rove had no role whatsoever in bringing about the investigation or prosecution of former Governor Don Seigelman. It is intellectually dishonest to even suggest that Mr. Rove influenced or had any input into the decision to investigate or prosecute Don Seigelman. That decision was made by me, Louis V. Franklin, Sr., as the Acting US Attorney in the case, in conjunction with the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section and the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

And, of course, there are Rove’s own specific denials.

On July 22 — a week before the contempt vote — Rove sent a letter to Cong. Lamar Smith (R-Tx) in answer to Smith’s request for specific answers to the allegations. Rove’s letter denied in the most specific terms that he’d ever spoken to Simpson or the Justice Department or Alabama officials. In it, he says:

I have never communicated, either directly or indirectly, with the Justice Department or Alabama officials about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction or sentencing of Governor Seigelman, or about any other matter related to his case, nor have I asked any other individual to communicate about these matters in my behalf. I have never attempted, either directly or indirectly, to influence these matters.

Elsewhere in the same letter, Rove says:

I have never communicated, either directly or indirectly, with Simpson about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction or sentencing of Governor Seigelman, about any other matter related to his case, or about any other matter whatsoever. (emphasis added).

For Rove to make such precise, all-inclusive statements while under Conyers’ guns, he must either be crazy or be absolutely convinced of the truth of what he said.

Though Conyers isn’t, we are able to consider a not-so-outrageous possibility: that Rove is telling the truth. I’m an old trial lawyer and — given the many corroborating witnesses and papers — I’d be really comfortable taking any contempt case to a jury. A jury of Rove’s peers, that is. Not a jury comprised of the 435 members of the House under Pelosi and Hoyer.

It is that “jury” that will decide if Rove will be held in contempt and may face imprisonment for it.

We don’t yet know if Pelosi will hold a vote on the contempt resolution when the House comes back in September, but it seems entirely possible. What is unlikely is that anyone — between yesterday’s vote and the September vote — will come up with any credible evidence that supports Conyers’ investigation and demand for Rove’s testimony.

The most likely outcome is that Conyers’ show trials will begin in September, just in time to besmirch the Republican Party in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

Coming soon to a television screen in your home: Live from Washington, DC! It’s the minor league McCarthy, John Conyers.