President Bush ordered former Counsel Harriet E. Miers to defy a congressional subpoena and refuse to testify about the firings of federal prosecutors, even as a second former aide revealed new details yesterday about White House involvement in the dismissals.
The possibility of contempt of Congress citations against both women hung over the developments.
House Democrats threatened to cite Miss Miers if she refused to appear as subpoenaed for a Judiciary Committee hearing today. The White House said she was immune from the subpoena and Mr. Bush had directed her not to appear, according to Miss Miers' lawyer.
At the Capitol, meanwhile, former White House political director Sara M. Taylor found out what Miss Miers may already have known: It's almost impossible to answer some committee questions but not others without breaching either the subpoena or Mr. Bush's claim of executive privilege.
After refusing to answer questions about the president's possible role in the firings, Ms. Taylor later told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she knew of no involvement by the president. She said, she knew of no wrongdoing by administration officials in the controversy that has hobbled the Justice Department and imperiled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
In letters dated Tuesday, White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding told Miss Miers' lawyer that Mr. Bush had ordered her to stay away from today's hearing.
"Ms. Miers has absolute immunity from compelled congressional testimony as to matters occurring while she was a senior adviser to the president," Mr. Fielding wrote to George T. Manning.
Mr. Manning, in turn, notified committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Linda Sanchez, California Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee on commercial and administrative law.