Washington President Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress careened closer to a full-blown legal showdown Wednesday over the firing of federal prosecutors as a House subcommittee voted subpoenas for top administration officials in defiance of the White House.
"After two months of stonewalling, shifting stories and misleading testimony, it is clear that we are still not getting the truth about the decision to fire these prosecutors and its cover-up," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.
In response, an unyielding White House threatened to rescind its day-old proposal for top strategist Karl Rove and other officials to answer lawmakers' questions away from the glare of television lights and not under oath. "If they issue subpoenas, yes, the offer is withdrawn," said presidential spokesman Tony Snow.
Despite the rhetoric, Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly suggested there was room for negotiations in a confrontation that has threatened Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' hold on his job and forced his chief of staff to resign.
The Michigan Democrat added that he would refrain from issuing the subpoenas, at least for now.
Documents made public during the day did little to clarify the circumstances surrounding the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys. Instead, they showed the Justice Department scrambling to answer questions from California Republican lawmakers critical of the record compiled by the U.S. attorney's office on immigration cases.
In an apparent attempt to mend fences, Gonzales arranged a series of meetings with groups of U.S. attorneys around the country, beginning today in St. Louis.
It seemed likely the next act in the political drama would be a separate vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve a second set of subpoenas for Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and William Kelley, who was Miers' deputy.
Senate Democrats, in particular, have been insistent on gaining testimony under oath, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed the idea that Rove would be allowed to answer questions on the White House's terms. "Anyone who would take that deal isn't playing with a full deck," he said.