Rove, Miers To Testify On Attorney Firings

The House Judiciary committee says former officials of the Bush administration have agreed to testify about the controversial U.S. attorney firings. The deal involves access for members of Congress to documents the Bush administration wanted withheld, and testimony from former aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

A major legal standoff ended today. The House judiciary committee reached an agreement with Karl Rove and Harriet Miers. The former White House aides will testify about their role in the U.S. attorney firings.

NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us with the details. And, Ari, are we going to see Rove and Miers in front of the cameras?

ARI SHAPIRO: Not initially, no. This agreement says that they are going to be interviewed in private, under oath, under penalty of perjury, with a transcript - none of which the White House wanted initially when President Bush was in charge. Remember, Karl Rove was the top political advisor to President Bush and Harriet Miers was the White House counsel.

There is a third White House lawyer, named William Kelly, who played a role in the U.S. attorney firings. And according to the agreement, Kelly may have eventually testify if the committee uncovers, quote, "information necessitating his testimony." I should also say that they have not ruled out altogether a future public hearing, but at least this first testimony is going to be in private.

SIEGEL: Has the judiciary committee agreed to limit the questions it'll ask these witnesses?

SHAPIRO: Yes. They're only going to get questions about the U.S. attorney firings. And they can ask Karl Rove about the case of Don Siegelman. He was the Alabama governor who was allegedly prosecuted for partisan political reasons. And then they're also going to get documents, which is something that they had had this dispute for two years over with the White House.

The documents go from December 2004 to March 2007. And that's basically a window from when Karl Rove first floated the idea of firing some U.S. attorneys to the moment when the you-know-what hit the fan in this scandal.

SIEGEL: What do we already know about Rove and Miers' role in the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys?

SHAPIRO: Well, we know that the White House played a significant role at the beginning of the process and at the very end of the process. Prior documents and testimony in this investigation have shown that Karl Rove floated the idea right after President Bush was reelected, firing some or all of the U.S. attorneys.

And witnesses have said that Karl Rove and Harriet Miers signed off on the final list of U.S. attorneys. The big question mark is the middle. And as you may remember, the White House said all along that it was immune, it had executive privilege, it did not have to participate in this inquiry. Well, now they have finally agreed and we're going to find out what the role was.

These firings led to one of the biggest scandals in the history of the Justice Department. Roughly a dozen top officials resigned, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and the House Judiciary Committee hopes that this can put the final chapter in their investigation.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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