WASHINGTON A House panel voted Wednesday to cite Karl Rove, formerly President Bush's top aide, for contempt of Congress as its Senate counterpart explored punishment for alleged misdeeds by other administration officials.
But it was not clear that the Democrats controlling a lame-duck Congress will push their case for abuse of power against a lame-duck president beyond televised talk and vague threats just a few weeks shy of final adjournment. As a practical matter, lawmakers have little time and less willingness to follow through on most charges, let alone punishments, before Bush leaves office.
They're finding plenty of time and political purpose, however, for public reviews of what Democrats say is the abuse of power and politicization across the Bush administration. Rove and the Justice Department starred in Wednesday's proceedings.
Voting 20-14 along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee cited Rove with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena to testify July 10 on allegations of improper White House influence over the Justice Department. For his part, Rove has denied any involvement with Justice decisions. The White House has said Congress has no authority to compel testimony from current and former advisers.
The committee decision is only a recommendation; A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would not decide until September whether to bring it to a vote by the full House. If she does and Democrats prevail, Pelosi could then refer the contempt citation to the Justice Department for prosecution. She also could direct the House to file a federal lawsuit against Rove, as she has done with two other Bush confidants who similarly sidestepped their subpoenas: White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former presidential legal counselor Harriet Miers.
Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, called the contempt citation "gratuitously punitive" action that would serve no purpose because the question of executive privilege is already pending in federal court.
Also this week, four Democratic senators demanded that Bush's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Stephen Johnson, resign over whether he had allowed politics to dictate decisions vital to protecting health and the environment. Led by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., they demanded a Justice Department probe into whether Johnson lied to a Senate committee. Through a spokesman, Johnson denied the accusation.
The administrator will "continue to lead this agency undistracted by the Boxer and Whitehouse show," the spokesman said.
"This is simply more election year politicking," sniffed Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. "Nothing more need be said."