WASHINGTON (CNN) – A House committee Thursday asked former White House political adviser Karl Rove to testify about allegations that Bush administration officials pushed for federal prosecutions of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and other Democrats.
House Judiciary Committee leaders said it is "imperative" that Rove answer allegations that he pressed the Justice Department to investigate Siegelman, a Democrat who when indicted was preparing a rematch against Alabama's Republican governor in 2006.
"We look forward to scheduling an early date for your voluntary appearance," the committee's Democratic leaders wrote in a letter released Thursday.
Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said Thursday that President Bush's onetime political mastermind "absolutely denies he was in any way involved in the decision to prosecute Don Siegelman." Luskin said he has had no direct communication the the Judiciary Committee's staff or its chairman, Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, and said the White House would have to decide whether Rove will be able to testify.
The probe grew out of the administration's controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006. The White House has invoked executive privilege to keep Rove from testifying to Congress in that case.
Siegelman was sentenced to more than seven years in prison in 2007 after his conviction on bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and mail fraud charges. Prosecutors accused him of running a "pay-for-play" scheme in which he exchanged official acts and influence for cash, property and services while serving as Alabama's governor from 1999 to 2003.
A federal appeals court ordered Siegelman released on bond in March, and he is scheduled to appear before the Judiciary Committee in May as part of an investigation into allegations that the Bush administration tried to influence the prosecutions of political opponents.
A Thursday report by the committee's Democratic staff recounted what it said is "extensive evidence" that Siegelman's prosecution "was directed or promoted by Washington officials."
And it cited three other cases - including that of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, coroner Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist and an outspoken Democrat. Wecht was charged with 84 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and theft in 2006, but the case was declared a mistrial earlier this month.
Rep. Lamar Smith, the committee's ranking Republican, called the staff report a rehash of "sensational allegations from unreliable witnesses and so-called academic studies." He said the Republican minority is still reviewing the document.
"Unfortunately, House Democrats are so intent on slandering the Bush administration that they willingly accept outlandish claims while questioning the honest work of career federal prosecutors," Smith, R-Texas, said in a written statement. "It may come as a surprise to some Democrats, but even Democratic office holders who have committed crimes must be held accountable.