Rove and Miers in the Hot Seat, Finally
By Eva Rodriguez
After a constitutional battle that has drawn on for years, soon (with luck) the House Judiciary Committee will question Karl Rove and Harriet Miers about the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys in 2007. It’s about time.
According to a deal they agreed to, Rove and Miers will not have to be sworn in, but because they are providing information to a congressional committee, they could be subject to perjury charges if they lie. The interviews will be conducted in private sessions and transcripts will be made public only after all witnesses have been questioned, in order to avoid inappropriate coordination of testimony. And the committee has agreed not to ask Rove and Miers about direct communications with President Bush.
But the long overdue glasnost achieves several important goals. First, the committee -- and the public -- will finally hear directly from two key Bush administration aides believed to have played a part in a scandal that raised profound questions about the inappropriate politicization of the Justice Department. The controversy and the mishandling of its aftermath was instrumental in triggering the resignation of then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Second, the agreement averts further court proceedings that could have eroded executive prerogatives for future presidents, including the current one. The Judiciary Committee filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the administration refused to allow aides to testify. Miers, for example, declined to show up for a congressional hearing, even though she had been subpoenaed. Last August, Judge John D. Bates, a 2001 Bush appointee, eviscerated much of the administration’s legal reasoning; it is unclear, he concluded, whether Miers could be compelled to testify, but there was no doubt that she had a legal obligation to respect the summons and enter a personal appearance. The administration duly appealed to the consistently conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Now that the two sides have come to agreement, the appellate process has been put on hold.
The Obama administration deserves credit for brokering the deal and for recognizing that need for and desirability of a political, rather than a judicial, solution. It did not act, however, entirely out of altruistic motives. If the litigation had gone forward, President Obama could have found himself legally stepping into the shoes of his predecessor to defend the presidency’s prerogatives. If he had decided against that, he could have undermined his and future presidents’ ability to shield aides from illegitimate congressional intrusions. A continued court battle, in other words, presented a virtual no win situation.
The White House was smart and right to push for this resolution. Now let’s hope that all sides of the dispute are smart enough to abide by it -- so that Rove and Miers finally go on the record.
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