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On that score, Rove emerged almost totally unscathed from the transcript's release. The major papers didn't mention Siegelman at all in their coverage, and the Alabama press largely portrayed Rove as having denied any involvement in the episode, as he's done before.
But a closer look at the transcript suggests it's not nearly that simple. Rove was asked numerous versions of the question about whether he played a role in the Siegelman prosecution. And though he offered flat denials to some of those versions, it's striking how many times he declined to give a firm answer, instead falling back on responses like, "not that I recall," or "not that I'm aware of."
Siegelman himself agrees, telling TPMmuckraker in an interview that Rove repeatedly "leaves the door cracked" in his testimony. "He didn't deny this," Siegelman added, calling Rove "a pathological liar," who "practiced the art of deception starting early in his life."
Let's go to the transcript:
At one point, Eliot Mincberg of the House Judiciary committee asked Rove:
In the period of time, again, between Governor Siegelman's election and the end of 2002, did you ever communicate about Governor Siegelman with anyone working at the Department of Justice?
Rove replied unequivocally: "No".
But that certainty was rare.
Soon afterwards, Mincberg asked:
[I]n the period of time between Governor Siegelman's election and the end of 2002, did you have any communication about Governor Siegelman with anyone working at any of the Alabama U.S. Attorneys' offices?
Rove replied: "Not that I'm aware of."
Referring to that same period of time up to the end of 2002, did you have any communications about a possible criminal investigation, prosecution, or illegal acts by Governor Siegelman with Bob Riley, his son Rob Riley, or anyone in the Riley administration?
This time, Rove first asked Mincberg to repeat the question. Then he answered: "Not that I recall."
In the period of time, again up to the end of 2002, did you have any communications about a possible criminal investigation, prosecution, or illegal acts by Governor Siegelman to anyone working in the media or the press?
You'd think that's something Rove would remember well enough to give a definitive answer on especially given the amount of time he's had, since his testimony was agreed to, specifically to allow him to go back and review the record.
But again, Rove answered: "Not that I'm aware of."
Again, in the period of time between Governor Siegelman's election and the end of 2002, did you or anyone working for you ever have any communications with anyone about a possible criminal investigation, prosecution, or illegal acts by Governor Siegelman?
Rove's response: "Not that I'm aware of." (Of course, Mincberg asked here about "anyone working for you," as well as Rove himself, so perhaps the hedge is appropriate here. But Rove's White House staff wasn't huge. It wouldn't have been hard for him to ascertain, in the many months since his testimony was scheduled, whether any of his aides had such a conversation.)
Mincberg then moved on to a later time period:
Again, in that same period of time, 2002 to the public release of the indictment of October 2005, did you or anyone at OPA or RNC or RGA have any communications about a possible criminal investigation, prosecution, or illegal acts by Governor Siegelman with Bill Canary?
After conferring with his counsel, Rove replied: "I don't recall."
Note that here, Rove didn't reply "not that I'm aware of," which might be understandable given the number of people covered by the question. But: "Not that I recall."
Again, in that same period of time between the end of 2002 and the public release of the Montgomery indictment in October of 2005, did you or, to the best of your knowledge, anyone at OPA, RNC or RGA ever communicate about a possible criminal
investigation, prosecution, or illegal acts by Governor Siegelman with Bob Riley, Rob Riley his son, or anyone in the Riley administration?
Rove: "Not that I recall."
Again, not "not that I'm aware of," but "not that I recall."
Soon after, Rove acknowledged that he might have spoken about Siegelman to Bill Canary. That's the Alabama GOP operative and Rove associate who had run Bob Riley's 2002 campaign against Siegelman, and the husband of Leura Canary, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Siegleman. But, said Rove, he didn't remember.
K.R.: I may have had a conversation with Canary about something that was public, but I don't recall."
E.M.: And do you recall anything about what that conversation -- if there was such a conversation -- what the content of that conversation was?
K.R.: I'm not aware that I had a conversation, but I wouldn't -- I don't want to -- there could have conceivably been such. I just don't recall.
E.M.: In any event, you don't recall the content of any such --
In some of these cases, it's perhaps understandable that Rove would phrase things this way. The questions cover long time periods, after all, and Rove is under oath.
But past experience with the man known as "Bush's Brain" -- not to mention the doggedness with which the Bush White House fought to have him avoid testifying at all -- suggests, at the very least, that his statements deserve an especially high degree of scrutiny. And when that scrutiny is applied, it's striking how equivocal many of his answers on Siegelman are.