Thursday, June 14, 2007

Capitol Hill Gears Up to Confront the White House Over U.S. Attorney Firings

The demise of the "no confidence" motion on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have just whetted the appetite of Democrats in Congress to pursue the investigation of the firing of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006.  The House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen launched subpoenas to two former senior aides to President Bush, former Counsel to the President Harriet Miers (here) and former Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (here), to discuss their roles in the decision.  The subpoenas are for documents and testimony, and the White House also received a document subpoena.  Taylor is supposed to appear before the Senate Committee on July 11, and Miers before the House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law on July 12 -- each Committee gets its moment in the spotlight, apparently.

Whether the testimony will ever take place remains an open question because the White House will almost certainly raise an Executive Privilege claim for the former aides to prevent them from testifying.  Note also that current Bush aide Karl Rove has not been subpoenaed, but that too may be in the offing.  A letter from White House Counsel Fred Fielding warned the Committees again that sending subpoenas would not be a welcome development.  His letter (here) concludes, "[I]t is our strong hope that the Committees will not feel compelled to elevate the stakes by pursuing the path of subpoenas and compulsory process referrer to in your recent letters, which will only prolong this debate . . . ."  Sounds to me like a threat to assert the privilege. 

Senate Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wrote back to Fielding in a cover letter to the document subpoena (here) stating:

The White House cannot have it both ways -- it cannot withhold documents and witnesses and thereby stonewall the investigation and, at the same time, claim that the facts about the White House’s improper influence over federal law enforcement have not been revealed in detail.  The White House’s continued stonewalling leads to the obvious conclusion that the White House is hiding the truth because there is something to hide.  Because the White House has continued its refusal to provide the requested information to the Senate Judiciary Committee on a voluntary basis, I am issuing subpoenas."

That sounds like the gauntlet being thrown down by Congress.

On another front, former interim U.S. Attorney Bradley J. Scholzman, who took the place of the ninth fired U.S. Attorney, Todd Graves, in the Western District of Missouri, sent a letter (here) to the Senate Judiciary Committee clarifying a misstatement in his recent testimony.  Scholzman testified about the prosecution of four members of a liberal voter registration organization called ACORN that was filed right before the 2006 election, and said that he had been "directed" to file the case by an career official in the Elections Crime Branch of the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section.  In his letter, Scholzman writes, "I want to be clear that, while I relied on the consultation with, and suggestions of, the Elections Crime Branch in bringing the indictments when I did, I take full responsibility for the decision to move forward with the prosecutions related to ACORN when I was the interim U.S. Attorney."  Yet another Emily Litella moment in the U.S. Attorney imbroglio. (ph)

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