WASHINGTON — Former White House political director Karl Rove, defying a subpoena, failed to appear before a U.S. House panel investigating whether the Justice Department prosecuted people for political reasons.

Rove's action today prompted the House Judiciary subcommittee to rule that his reasons for skipping the appearance weren't legally valid, setting up a possible contempt of Congress vote as soon as next week.

"I'm extremely disappointed and extremely concerned that Mr. Rove has decided to forgo this opportunity," said Representative Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat who heads the commercial and administrative law subcommittee.

Her finding that Rove's executive privilege claims weren't proper was approved by a party-line 7-1 vote with all Democrats agreeing.

The panel is trying to determine whether partisan politics influenced the Justice Department's decision to bring a corruption case against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat. Rove has rejected the notion and said he would speak with the committee only in private, not under oath and without a transcript. He also proposed answering questions in writing.

Sanchez noted that Rove's offer was limited to discussing the Siegelman case. The panel wants to question him about other topics as well, including the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorneys, she said.

'Partisan Stunt'

Republican Representative Chris Cannon of Utah called today's hearing "a partisan stunt" and said Rove was out of town on a long-planned trip.

"There is no evidence supporting these allegations at all," Cannon said.

The Justice Department's ethics office also is probing whether Siegelman was the victim of selective prosecution.

The ex-governor is appealing his conviction and seven-year prison sentence for accepting a bribe from HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy. In March, a federal appeals court reviewing the case ordered Siegelman released from prison on bail.

House Democrats asked a federal judge in Washington to force White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to comply with a Judiciary Committee subpoena seeking information on the prosecutor dismissals. The judge heard arguments on that case June 23.