Thursday, March 5, 2009

Karl Rove and Harriet E. Miers, two top aides to former President George W. Bush, have agreed to testify under oath before Congress, ending a lawsuit over the role the two White House officials played in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, purportedly for political reasons.

Mr. Rove, who served as senior political adviser for Mr. Bush, and Miss Miers, the former president’s lawyer, will testify before the House Judiciary Committee in closed depositions “under the penalty for perjury,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. The committee says it also might call the two for public testimony.

The agreement has been pushed by President Obama, who sought to straddle the powers of the executive with the public’s right to know. Mr. Rove, on the other hand, has said he was bound by a mandate from Mr. Bush not to testify about the matter, prompting the Judiciary Committee to sue a year ago.

Mr. Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, welcomed the deal.

“That agreement is good news,” he said. “Mr. Rove has consistently maintained that he would not assert any personal privileges to refuse to appear or testify, but was required to follow the direction of the president on matters of executive privilege. Within these constraints, we have worked hard to find constructive way to address the committee’s concerns and are pleased that the committee and President Bush were able to resolve their differences.”

Bush spokesman Rob Saliterman said Wednesday, “At the urging of the Obama administration, and in consideration of the executive branch interests at stake, we have reached an accommodation with the House Judiciary Committee that satisfies the committee’s desire for additional information and will finally put this matter to rest.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that White House Counsel Greg Craig said the deal “will allow the committee to complete its investigation into the U.S. attorneys matter, and it will do so in the way such disputes have historically been resolved - through negotiation and accommodation between the legislative and executive branches.”

In 2007, Mr. Bush invoked executive privilege to keep Mr. Rove and other top officials from testifying to Congress about the White House’s role in the firing of the federal prosecutors, as well as about allegations of political interference in prosecutions. An internal Bush Justice Department investigation concluded that despite denials from the administration, political considerations played a part in the firings of as many as four of them.

In September, former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey named a special prosecutor to investigate whether former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, other Bush administration officials or Republicans in Congress should face criminal charges in the firings.

“This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight,” Mr. Conyers said in a statement. “It is also a vindication of the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether U.S. attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom.”

The Justice Department planned to file late Wednesday a joint motion with the House Judiciary Committee to stop the lawsuit. But the committee can resume the lawsuit if the agreement is breached, Mr. Conyers said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the agreement “is a great victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and the separation of powers.”

“Congress now has the opportunity to uncover the truth and determine whether improper criteria were used by the Bush administration to dismiss and retain U.S. attorneys,” she said.

• Ben Conery contributed to this article.

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