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House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers wants White House political czar Karl Rove to testify–under oath–about his role in the firing of US attorneys who refused to politicize their prosecutions.

Seven US attorneys were removed from their positions as part of a purge that has now been linked to Rove and the Bush White House. An eighth US attorney was removed in an apparent effort to clear a position in Arkansas for a Rove protege.

In response to the revelations of Rove’s involvement in efforts to pressure US attorneys to use their positions to advance the Bush administration’s political agenda, Conyers is taking the lead in demanding accountability.

“On Friday, the Judiciary Committee issued a letter expanding the investigation into the firing of US attorneys to include the White House,” says the Michigan Democrat, who is the senior member of the committee. “We had previously learned of Karl Rove´s involvement in the firings, and recent stories implicating him in the firing of [David C. Iglesias, who had served as U.S. attorney for New Mexico] raise even more alarm bells for us. As a result, we would want to ensure that Karl Rove was one of the White House staff that we interview in connection with our investigation.”

John Conyers is also seeking to interview former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and deputy counsel William Kelly about their involvement, if any, in the firings.

There is movement on the Senate side of the Capitol, as well, with New York Democrat Chuck Schumer calling for an aggressive Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry. “The more we learn, the more it seems that people at high levels in the White House have been involved in the U.S. attorney purge,” says Schumer.

The administration is clearly feeling the heat. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ top aide, D. Kyle Sampson, has been forced to resign because of his role in the scandal. But, says Schumer, “Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy.”

Translation: Congress is not going to let the administration hide behind a loyal aide in order to avoid accountability, as was the case with the decision to sacrifice I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, vice president Cheney’s former chief of staff, in order to avoid legal scrutiny of Cheney’s role in organizing attacks on former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife after Wilson exposed the administration’s manipulation of intelligence prior to the Iraq invasion.

Gonzales is not getting the courtesy that has, so far, been afforded Cheney.

“We were told by the attorney general that he would, quote, ‘never ever’ make a change for political reasons,” says Schumer. “It now turns out that this was a falsehood. As all the evidence makes clear that this purge was based purely on politics.”

People for the American Way has called on Gonzales to resign. Failing that, argues the group, the Attorney General should be removed from office as “the first step toward holding the White House and Department of Justice accountable to the rule of law.” Says PFAW’s Ralph Neas: “The Attorney General has demonstrated time and again that Americans can’t trust him–or this administration–to follow the law, or to uphold the Constitution. There has to be some accountability here. It is in the nation’s best interest for the Attorney General to resign, and if he fails to do so, President Bush should remove him from office.”

But what about President Bush, himself?

Schumer says, “Attorney General Gonzales has either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or doesn’t understand that his duty to protect the law is greater than his duty to protect the president.”

If, in fact, Gonzales or Rove acted with the approval of President Bush or Vice President Cheney, then the issue at hand becomes a constitutional matter of the highest order — or, to be more precise, of the high crimes and misdemeanors order.

Which brings us to the first question that Conyers or other members of the House and Senate might ask Rove.

How about: “What did the President or Vice President know, and when did they know it?”


John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”