03/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Did the President Know and When Did He Know It? Karl Rove Knows...

Republican Senator Howard Baker once asked "What did the President know and when did he know it?" when it became clear that then-President Nixon was involved in the Watergate scandal.

Back then Republicans were about small government, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law. Back then Democrats were about accountability, labor fairness, and limiting corporate influence in government. Much has changed since those days, when Congress acted as a check on the Executive Branch and a single break-in was enough to spark a serious Congressional inquiry into White House dirty tricks and abuses of power.

The Republicans in office now are by and large social reactionaries who have helped expand government powers, depleted the US Treasury, and disregarded the rule of law. Democrats have not done better. When Speaker Pelosi declared that the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney was "off the table," she not only abdicated her Constitutional responsibilities, she ensured that we would be dealing with the consequences of her negligence for years to come.

So Here We Are Now

Karl Rove is alleged to have used the US Department of Justice as his own political brown-shirts (see articles at end). Innocent people went to jail, were denied their freedom, their rights, and even now are being denied justice. The victims of these alleged illegal activities, including Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, Oliver E. Diaz Jr., John Whitfield, Wes Teel, Georgia Thompson, and others were in most cases financially destroyed and their careers ruined. The stress from this onslaught in most cases permanently affected the health of these victims and in two cases, has denied them the right to tend to a seriously ill spouse. In Paul Minor's case, his wife of 40 years is dying from breast cancer that has spread to her brain.

She cannot see her husband because she cannot travel as she is in hospice. He cannot see his wife, because he is in prison. They will likely never see each other again. In Wes Teel's case, his wife has Multiple Sclerosis and has to live through the daily horrors of this illness alone. Do these people, American citizens -- whose only crime was that they were allegedly targeted as political enemies by Karl Rove -- get any justice?

Rove Subpoenaed

The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Karl Rove this past Monday to testify about these alleged political prosecutions. The people Rove allegedly talked to or gave orders to were in the Department of Justice and in the various US Attorney offices as well as individuals not in government. Rove has publicly denied discussing this with anyone, including anyone at the White House.

Yet he invokes Executive Privilege in order to not appear in front of Congress.


If Rove had no discussions with the President about this - as his attorney has publicly claimed - then how does Executive Privilege apply? And EVEN if Rove had discussed these alleged illegal activities with the President - he must still honor a Congressional subpoena, even if he then invokes privilege during the hearing. Either the President knew - (in which case Howard Baker's now famous question still applies) - or there is no Executive Privilege. Rove cannot have it both ways. In any case, how does what Rove can and cannot answer have anything to do with showing up?

Moreover, Executive Privilege ONLY applies to giving advice to the President or conversations with the President. It does NOT apply to conversations with people outside of the White House or outside of government.

Fred Fielding's Legal Advice

According to Rove, 4 days before Bush left office, White House Council Fred Fielding issued a letter telling Rove not to honor a Congressional subpoena. Fielding is essentially advising a former client of his to break the law. It is one thing to advise that Rove may not answer certain questions or any questions for that matter. It is a whole other matter to actually advise his client not show up when subpoenaed. What authority does Fred Fielding claim he has in order to advise his client to break the law? Is Fielding being told by President Bush to advise Rove in this manner? In other words, is the President saying that anyone who has ever worked for him is above all laws because he decides it? (What did the President know and when did he know it?)

Surely Mr. Fielding might be able to answer this question? Where does he claim this authority from? Unlike former Nixon White House Council John Dean - who did the honest, ethical, decent and legal thing -Fielding is doing his best to obstruct justice. As a result, I would like the relevant legal bar under which Fielding has his license to investigate this matter.

Ultimately, however, this can be more quickly resolved via the following:

Congress can disregard Bush's belief that he and his friends are above the law, and vote on Inherent Contempt. Rove can sit in jail while Fielding spins and dances.

Attorney General Eric Holder can open up criminal proceedings into both Rove and Fielding.

Otherwise, there is only one thing to conclude in all of this should Rove not be held to account for - at the very least - skipping out on his subpoena - that so long as your attorney writes you a note, you are exempt from being held to account. John Yoo did this kind of legal get-out-of-jail pass for the Bush administration when he authored justifications - illegal - for acts of torture. Fred Fielding is doing the same thing now. Since we are a democracy and none of us are above the law, either we all have to honor subpoenas or we don't. If Rove does not have to show up, then none of us have to.


The Permanent Republican Majority Series (US Attorney Scandal):

    See local Alabama journalist Roger Shuler's excellent reporting