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Bush to claim privilege to block aide’s testimony

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2007

Attorneys for Karl Rove's former deputy told a Senate committee yesterday that President Bush will assert executive privilege and instruct her not to comply with the panel's subpoena to testify this week.

"It is unfair to [Sara] Taylor that this constitutional struggle might be played out with her as the object of an unseemly tug of war," W. Neil Eggleston, Ms. Taylor's attorney, wrote in a letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ms. Taylor, 32, is scheduled to testify Wednesday about the extent and nature of White House involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

Mr. Eggleston said that Ms. Taylor expects to receive a letter from White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding, "on behalf of the president directing her not to comply with the Senate's subpoena."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Mr. Fielding previously "made clear that the president would be forced to assert executive privilege if the chairman continued to reject our offer of accommodation."

Mr. Bush has stated that the president's need to receive "candid advice" from aides relies on their ability to talk with him and with others without fear of being instructed to tell Congress about internal deliberations. Democratic congressional leaders say the president's rights of executive privilege are narrower and do not extend to all internal deliberations but only to national security matters.

Mr. Eggleston said that "these contrary directions undoubtedly create a monumental clash between the executive and legislative branches of government."

"If the executive and legislative branches of government are unable to reach agreement, we urge the Senate not to use Ms. Taylor as the focus of the constitutional struggle," he said.

Mr. Leahy, in a statement released by the committee, said the news of Mr. Bush's expected assertion of executive privilege was "unfortunate," but he did not respond publicly to Mr. Eggleston's request on behalf of Ms. Taylor

"The White House continues to try to have it both ways: to block Congress from talking with witnesses and accessing documents and other evidence while saying nothing improper occurred," Mr. Leahy said. However, he did signal that he still hopes to reach a compromise with the White House on access to current and former officials and documents, without heading to court.

"I hope the White House stops this stonewalling and accepts my offer to negotiate a workable solution to the committee's oversight requests," he said.

Mr. Bush has offered access to documents and to private interviews with top White House officials, but Democrats have rejected the offer as too limited.

Mr. Fratto said that "none of this has to do with learning the facts."

"If the senator were serious about getting to the facts, he would have accepted the president's offer to interview Ms. Taylor and others without the need for this confrontation or media spectacle."

Ms. Taylor, before she resigned in May, reported directly to Mr. Rove, a top presidential adviser, in her role as White House political affairs director. Mr. Eggleston, in his letter, said that Ms. Taylor has "participated in no wrongdoing" and "would testify without hesitation" if the president, to whom she is "unquestionably loyal," were not opposed to it.