House Judiciary Panel Head Tells White House To Answer Subpoenas

Monday, November 5th 2007, 11:35 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers exhorted the White House Monday to comply with subpoenas of President Bush's key confidants in connection with a probe of U.S. attorney firings.

In so doing, the Michigan Democrat raised the specter of a House floor vote by Thanksgiving on contempt of Congress citations against chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former legal counsel Harriet Miers.

``As we submit the committee's contempt report to the full House, I am writing one more time to seek to resolve this issue on a cooperative basis,'' Conyers said in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding.

Conyers wants testimony and documents from Bolten and Miers on whether the Justice Department's purge of nine federal prosecutors last winter was carried out at the White House's behest.

Also in Conyers' sights: Karl Rove, the architect of Bush's rise to the White House and a top political adviser who left last summer.

A contempt report was being delivered to the House clerk on Monday, and a vote by the full House would happen next week if Fielding refuses to provide the information the Judiciary panel is demanding, according to several House Democratic aides.

The White House showed no signs of budging, calling Conyers' effort ``futile'' and a waste of Congress' time.

``This Congress is proving to be the all time champion of investigations,'' said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. ``If the Judiciary Committee really wanted facts instead of headlines, they should have accepted the president's offer of accommodation to interview current and former advisors.''

Fielding has declared that the information Conyers seeks is off-limits to lawmakers under the doctrine of executive privilege, but offered to make officials and documents available to the committee behind closed doors _ not under oath and off the record. Lawmakers demanded a transcript and the negotiations stalled.

Keeping the U.S. attorney controversy alive are several political and administrative developments, including the pending Senate vote on the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as attorney general. Unlike former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mukasey during his confirmation hearings did not rule out prosecuting Miers and Bolten for contempt of Congress.

The committee was expected to file the contempt report with the clerk of the House later Monday, several Democratic officials said. If passed by the House, the contempt citation would be referred to the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

In what he said was his ninth letter to the White House on this issue, Conyers said he was trying one last time to reach an agreement on the release of the information.

The proposal included an initial release of communications between White House officials and others on the firings, according to Conyers' letter to Fielding. The White House would then make available for confidential staff review any remaining internal White House documents on the same subjects.

Finally, Miers, Rove and other, lower-ranking current and former White House officials would be interviewed along the lines of Fielding's previous offer of private testimony not under oath. Conyers insisted on a transcript of any such question-and-answer sessions, however. That's a condition that Fielding so far has rejected.

Conyers asked Monday that Fielding reply by end of the week. Congress goes on a two-week recess in mid-November.

Conyers' panel passed a contempt resolution against Miers and Bolten July 25 after the two failed to respond to subpoenas compelling the information as part of the probe into the firings. The House investigation, which moved in cooperation with a probe by the Senate Judiciary Committee, spurred the controversy that led to Gonzales' resignation in September. Mukasey will receive a vote by the Senate panel Tuesday and is expected to be confirmed by the full chamber before Thanksgiving.

Fielding has asserted executive privilege on the details pertaining to the White House, but offered to make interviews and documents available to congressional investigators behind closed doors, off the record and without a transcript. Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have agreed to the first two conditions, but insisted on a transcript.