WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congressional Democrats investigating the Bush administration set rapid-fire votes in three committees Wednesday on subpoenas for officials ranging from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
``If we are stonewalled then we can't hesitate to call on the powers available to us,'' said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Those powers include the threat of subpoenas to prod the administration into answering questions on a raft of issues, including the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and President Bush's suggestion, now discredited, that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.
Chief among the targets is Rice, whose aides have insisted she has answered questions repeatedly before Congress and in the media about Bush's statement on uranium.
``We have hit a brick wall with the secretary of state,'' Waxman announced Wednesday. Rice, he said, ``is giving us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena.''
He canceled a vote on issuing a subpoena to former White House chief of staff Andrew Card on the same issue, saying White House Counsel Fred Fielding had make a compromise proposal worth pursuing.
Still, Republicans dismissed the subpoenas as political fishing expeditions by zealous majority Democrats eager to assert their newly won oversight power.
Rep. Tom Davis of Virgina, top Republican on Waxman's committee, called the Rice subpoena duplicative and evidence of a witchhunt. Though the uranium claim was false, Rice already has explained that she believed it to be true at the time.
``What's left to investigate?'' Davis said. Waxman's questions to her ``have been asked and answered,'' Davis said.
The barrage of subpoenas is an example of the Democrats' newfound power and the plethora of White House business from which they have to choose after six years of a Republican majority that did virtually no executive branch oversight.
Also under congressional investigation is the firings of eight federal prosecutors, and what they say about Gonzales' stewardship at the Justice Department and his relationship with the White House. Critics say the firings were politically motivated.
Republicans point out that Gonzales survived a brutal Senate hearing last week with President Bush's support and no evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecutors firings. He was expected to return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with a key critic, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who has complained that Gonzales was not truthful with him over the dismissal of Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark.
The House Judiciary Committee's docket for Wednesday was dominated by Gonzales' former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, who played a role in the run-up to the firings and the resulting explanation that several were fired for performance reasons.
Goodling has quit and refused to testify under her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She could be forced to do so and granted immunity under two measures _ one of them authorizing a subpoena _ being considered by the panel chaired by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
In the Senate, authorizing a subpoena for Sara Taylor, deputy to presidential adviser Karl Rove, to testify about the White House's role in the firings was being considered by its Judiciary Committee. White House Counsel Fred Fielding has refused to make Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers or anyone else on the White House staff available to testify under oath or on the record.
State Department officials on Tuesday tried to head off a vote on a subpoena by the House committee, meeting with Waxman's staff, but the dispute apparently was not resolved.
Rep. Mike Renzi, R-Ariz., became tangled in the prosecutors' flap Tuesday when his chief of staff acknowledged calling the office of Paul Charlton, then the U.S. attorney in Arizona, in October to inquire about press reports saying his boss was being investigated.
Renzi is being investigated by federal authorities for a land deal that benefited a friend and business associate who was also a campaign donor. He denies any wrongdoing.