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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is Deal on Rove Testimony Designed to Protect Bush?

Was President George W. Bush briefed about the U.S. attorney firings or the political prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman?

The public might never know the answer to that question, thanks to a deal brokered by the Obama White House to obtain Karl Rove's testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

An investigative report by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane at Raw Story says the deal includes several unusual provisions. And they appear designed to protect Bush from inquiries about his possible involvement in the U.S. attorney firings, the Siegelman prosecution, or both.

One provision in the deal says members of Congress will not be allowed to see four pages of material, but will have those pages described to them. Raw Story reports:

Perhaps the most mysterious clause in the agreement is a reference to four pages of material which Congress will not be allowed to see but will only have described to them: “With the exception of 4 pages of particularly sensitive privileged material (which will be described for Committee staff by a representative of the former President), Committee staff (majority and minority) will be allowed to review the documents for the period December 2004 through March 8, 2007.”

Officials with the House Judiciary Committee refused to comment on the provision.

What does it mean? Raw Story tackles that question:

Scott Horton, a Columbia Law School professor and contributor to Harper’s Magazine, believes the “4 pages” may relate to briefings of the former president on either the US Attorney firings or the Siegelman prosecution.

“My bet is that these four pages touch in some way on communications with the president and thus are close to the heart of the legitimate claim of executive privilege,” Horton explained in an email exchange. “The process of ‘describing’ [and] withhold has a legitimate basis [if these were presidential briefings.]”

Raw Story explains the legalities behind executive privilege:

There are two forms of executive privilege. The weaker, known as the deliberative privilege, covers policy-making discussions among presidential advisers. The presidential communications privilege, which is much stronger and less likely to be challenged, is restricted to communications made directly to the president.

If those four pages are being kept secret under the presidential communications privilege, it could imply that Rove may have discussed one of the two scandals with President Bush at the time of its occurrence. Rove has denied having played any role in the Siegelman case, and the Bush administration has never claimed executive privilege in that area, but it has done so repeatedly with regard to the US Attorney firings.

Legal experts also are puzzled by the role Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig played in brokering the deal. Why did Craig play such a leading role? Raw Story posed that question to Scott Horton:

“That’s a question for Greg Craig, since he has personally put himself on the line in this matter,” Horton said. “My sense is that they have a legitimate interest in privilege issues, but also that they have been far more deferential to Rove and Miers than the circumstances warrant. And in the background we have the troubling fact that Rove is a former client of Craig’s. Which explains why he should never have involved himself in this.”

Also troubling is a provision that allowed Rove to testify without being under oath:

Horton points to Rove’s extreme measures to avoid testifying in this investigation as indicating that he may be trying to avoid revealing some very damaging information:

“Rove has a long track record of making false statements under oath and always wiggling his way out of being prosecuted for it,” Horton stated. “In this case his efforts to avoid testimony have been extraordinary, which points to there being very damaging facts he wants to avoid. Now it will be up to Congress to get to the bottom of the matter.”

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