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Rove declares his innocence in 2006 U.S. attorney firings

Bush's top political advisor breaks his silence after two days of closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. His outspokenness prompts calls of foul play by Democrats.

July 31, 2009|Josh Meyer

WASHINGTON — After years of silence, top Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove went on a public relations offensive Thursday, saying he did nothing wrong in the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

He said soon-to-be-released White House documents and his testimony from a closed-door congressional hearing will bear him out.

But Rove's comments, made through his lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, prompted immediate calls of foul play by congressional Democrats, who accused him of sidestepping an agreement not to discuss his two days of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

"It's hardly surprising that Mr. Rove would minimize his involvement in the U.S. attorney firings or that selectively leaked documents would serve his version of events," said committee spokesman Jonathan Godfrey. "The committee believes that the full record will show Mr. Rove's role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys was more substantial than his statements to the media indicate."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who led the questioning, agreed with the committee's statement, adding: "Plainly Mr. Rove is trying to jump ahead and shape the story before the documents and interviews are released."

The committee is expected to release the Rove material in the next few weeks after all participants have approved the accuracy of the testimony transcripts.

Rove's testimony, which wrapped up Thursday, came after a protracted legal battle in which Rove and other senior Bush administration officials refused to testify in what they called a partisan witch hunt by congressional Democrats.

The Democrats believe the top prosecutors were fired in 2006 because they refused to go along with the Republican political agenda.

As a compromise, Rove agreed to field questions from one congressman and one staff lawyer from each party. Also in the room were staff members and lawyers for congressional officers, the Bush and Obama administrations, and the Justice Department, which appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the firings for possible criminal violations.

Since the firings, other Bush administration officials have defended their and Rove's actions, saying that Bush's political advisor was merely passing along complaints from some Republicans about various U.S. attorneys, particularly David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, Bud Cummins in Arkansas and Todd Graves in Missouri.

Until Thursday, however, Rove had declined to comment, Luskin said. But he made prearranged deals with the New York Times and Washington Post, under which he allowed them to see some of his e-mail messages, which the White House had closely guarded. He also gave an interview with both newspapers in which he insisted he had done nothing wrong.

"There has been a lot of speculation about what his role might have been," Luskin said of Rove. "I think there was a feeling that the time had come for him to lay out his understanding of those events, following the conclusion of his testimony before the House committee."

There were few, if any, disclosures in Rove's e-mails or his interviews with the newspapers. For the most part, Rove said, as the White House did earlier, that he was providing political guidance about larger policy issues and was interested in helping put the best people into prosecutor positions that were either already open or about to become open.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

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