April 23, 2008 -- A possible witness in the federal trial against Antoin "Tony" Rezko would testify that former White House aide Karl Rove was involved in discussions to remove U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from the brewing case against the politically-connected Chicago businessman, prosecutors reportedly said Wednesday morning.
The conversations are alleged to have occurred in 2004, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve in an early-morning conference, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
At that time, Fitzgerald was also investigating the White House's leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer. Fitzgerald did not indict Rove, though the former aide reportedly faced legal jeopardy in the case, and testified four times before a grand jury on the matter.
Prosecutors want to call Rezko associate Ali Ata to testify, they told Judge St. Eve. They said they expect part of his testimony to cover conversations Ata allegedly had with Rezko that Rove was working with Rezko ally and GOP heavyweight Bob Kjellander to get Fitzgerald taken off the case.
If they occurred, the alleged conversations would predate the Bush administration's more systematic effort in 2005 to remove U.S. attorneys it perceived as disloyal.
Fitzgerald's name appeared on a March 2005 Justice Department document prepared for the White House ranking U.S. attorneys by political loyalty. Fitzgerald was listed among those who had "not distinguished themselves" by the document's author, D. Kyle Sampson, then-aide to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In congressional testimony, Sampson said he suggested removing Fitzgerald in a 2006 conversation with top White House lawyers, but "immediately...regretted it."
Rove attorney Robert Luskin said that Rove "does not recall ever having been asked by [Kjellander] or anyone else to attempt to remove Fitzgerald, and never spoke with anyone in the White House or elsewhere to try and bring that about."
Kjellander told ABC News Wednesday afternoon he had never discussed "with Karl Rove or any other person on the White House staff" the idea of removing Fitzgerald from his office, nor did he tell anyone he would do so.
Ata's attorney, Thomas McQueen, declined to comment on his client's alleged allegations. "The government will do whatever the government will do," McQueen said, "but that's not part of the plea agreement. I can't comment." Ata pleaded guilty yesterday to lying to federal investigators working the Rezko probe.