Rove’s Spin Takes Him Into Criminal Territory

Did Karl Rove obstruct justice when he discussed his role in the the U.S. attorney firings with two major newspapers, violating an agreement he had with Congress?

Yes indeed, says Alabama lawyer and whistleblower Jill Simpson, who has testified under oath that Rove was part of a conspiracy to conduct a political prosecution against former Governor Don Siegelman.

Simpson says Rove violated 18 U.S. Code 1505 by granting interviews with The New York Times and the Washington Post, which ran last week after his second round of testimony before staff members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Rove also provided copies of selected e-mails to reporters, messages that apparently indicate his role in the U.S. attorney firings was small.

Did Rove commit a crime? The applicable law is titled "Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees," and Simpson says Rove violated it. Breaking the law carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Says Simpson:

"He violated the congressional investigation by talking to the newspapers. The statute is clear . . . I think we have a bingo. Mr Rove ran his mouth and should be charged and sentenced to five years. . . . By releasing what he said, he has put all who may testify on notice to doctor their testimony (accordingly). That is why his testimony was supposed to be secret. Shame on Karl. But he has committed a crime; now time will tell what they do with it. Also it is clearly an intentional act."

Simpson says Rove and his attorney Robert Luskin probably launched their spin campaign to let George W. Bush know the content of Rove’s testimony. Says Simpson:

"I suspect the reason for the leak is to let George W Bush know what Karl said. Karl in his interview said he suspected (Bush was informed of the firings). This was his way of letting (the former president) know what he said. Also George is in direct conflict with what his press (office) said at the time, so Karl’s testimony was different and open ended on that question, as reported by the press.

"Bless their black hearts, they have leaked one too many times, and this time caught themselves in a mess as they did it openly and released documents that were protected and not to be released to the public."

It should be impossible for the Obama administration to ignore the latest shenanigans from Rove, Simpson says:

"Obama can say he won’t look backwards to the past administration. But this obstruction occurred . . . during his administration, so it is the present not the past. That argument won’t work."

Finally, Simpson raises questions about the newspapers’ roles in the leaks:

"Are the Washington Post and New York Times not also guilty of obstruction? They clearly knew about the agreement and ran the story anyway. They have been co-conspirators, in my opinion, to assisting Mr Rove in leaking info to the (former) president about what Mr. Rove testified to."

Alabama journalist Glynn Wilson, who has reported extensively on corruption in the Bush Justice Department, says the two newspapers appear to be willing dupes for Rove:

What the two top newspapers in the land don’t seem to realize is that this is an attempt by Rove to not only snake his way out of culpability in politicizing the Justice Department, but to actually try and make it appear as if he gives a damn about the problems he created as Bush’s lead political brain and attack dog. Every single decision made by the Bush administration was filtered through Rove to make sure it met political muster, and the administration aggressively pursued a strategy of taking over the country by the Republican Party. Rove often promised his GOP buddies that his mission was to keep the Republicans in charge of the country “for a generation.”

So why does this come as a surprise to the Post and the Times at this late date?

In the Times version of this fiction, Mr. Rove said he “played only a peripheral role in the removal of the prosecutors.”

Right . . .

Scott Horton, of Harper’s, says The New York Times looks particularly bad in its entanglement with Rove:

Turning the page we find the Times punk’d yet a second time, in the more conventional way. Karl Rove, violating his agreement with the House Judiciary Committee (which I discussed here), gave “exclusive” interviews to the Times and the Washington Post, in a determined effort to spin the bad news about his role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys and his unseen hand in the work of the Justice Department generally. The Post’s piece, by Carrie Johnson, shows an appropriate level of balance and skepticism about Rove’s self-serving and highly misleading claims. Not so the Times. Indeed, the headline tells the whole story: “Rove Says His Role in Prosecutor Firings Was Small.” The problem, of course, is that the evidence the Judiciary Committee has collected, and the investigation by special prosecutor Nora Dannehy, show precisely the opposite. They put Karl Rove squarely in the center of the effort to remove the U.S. attorneys fired in the December 7, 2006 massacre, and they show that the firings were motivated by improper partisan political considerations. Rove was positioned as the enforcer of Republican Party discipline—ensuring that U.S. attorneys implement the party’s electoral program, including voter intimidation and suppression, or be forced to walk the plank.

The Los Angeles Times has joined the fray with a piece titled "Rove Declares His Innocence in 2006 U.S. Attorney Firings." The LA Times does not seem impressed with Rove’s interviews to East Coast newspapers, noting the Judiciary Committee’s reaction to Rove’s handiwork:

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 LA Times also reported that Rove’s interviews did not amount to much in terms of journalism:

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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