Archive for Monday, March 19, 2007

Senator to push ahead with subpoenas

March 19, 2007

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— The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said Sunday he intends to subpoena White House officials involved in ousting federal prosecutors and is dismissing anything short of their testimony in public.

The Bush White House was expected to announce early this week whether it will let political strategist Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and other officials testify or will seek to assert executive privilege in preventing their appearance.

The chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last week delayed a vote on the subpoenas until Thursday as the president's counsel, Fred Fielding, sought to negotiate terms. But on Sunday, Leahy said he had not met Fielding nor was he particularly open to any compromises, such as a private briefing by the administration officials.

"I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this," Leahy said. "I do not believe in this, we'll have a private briefing for you where we'll tell you everything, and they don't."

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the committee, said he had a long talk with Fielding on Friday and was reserving judgment. Specter said he would like to see Rove and Miers' open testimony because there were numerous precedents for it.

"I want to see exactly what the White House response is," Specter said. "Maybe the White House will come back and say, 'We'll permit them to be interviewed and we'll give them all the records."'

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore declined to comment Sunday as to whether Rove and Miers would testify. Fielding was taking additional time to review the matter "given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved," she said.

At issue is the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, dismissals Democrats say were politically motivated. Such prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales initially had asserted the firings were performance-related, not based on political considerations.

But e-mails released last week between the Justice Department and the White House contradicted that assertion and led to a public apology from Gonzales over the handling of the matter.

The e-mails showed that Rove, as early as Jan. 6, 2005, questioned whether the U.S. attorneys should all be replaced at the start of Bush's second term, and to some degree worked with Miers and former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson to get some prosecutors dismissed.

Additional e-mails are expected to be released this week to the Senate and House Judiciary committees. Each committee planned votes on subpoenas for Rove and Miers.

The Senate committee already has approved using subpoenas, if necessary, for Justice Department officials and J. Scott Jennings, deputy to White House political director Sara Taylor, who works for Rove.

Lawmakers also were scheduled Thursday to quiz Gonzales about his agency's budget request in a hearing that was expected to focus in part on the prosecutor scandal.

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