President Bush today announced that he will not hand over documents related to the firing of eight federal prosecutors last year, citing executive privilege.
It is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path, which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation, White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding said in a letter sent this morning to the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
Rep. John Conyers Jr., chairman of the House panel, said the president’s response to our subpoena shows an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government.
This response indicates the reckless disrespect this administration has for the rule of law, Mr. Conyers said.
Mr. Fielding“s letter contends that the White House has offered congressional Democrats the information they are seeking about the fired U.S. attorneys in the form of some documents and private interviews with five current and former administration officials.
The Justice Department also has turned over more than 8,500 pages of documents related to the firings, Mr. Fielding wrote.
However, he said the president has drawn the line at providing documents revealing internal White House communications and will not accede to [Democrats”] desire for senior advisers to testify at public hearings.
Issuing subpoenas and seeking to compel the disclosure of information in lieu of accepting the president”s reasonable offer of accommodation has led to confrontation, Mr. Fielding said in the letter to Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat, and his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.
The White House and Congress also have clashed over whether a transcript of the private hearings would be provided. One leading Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would favor the White House offer if such a transcript were provided.
The official rejected the notion that the president”s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas was an attempt to hide information.
This is not a mere exercise relating to a particular event. This is an attempt to protect particular prerogatives for this president and for future presidents, the official said.
The president is entitled to hire and fire U.S. attorneys, who have prosecutorial jurisdiction over whole states or sections of large states, at his discretion. Congress, however, is seeking evidence that the Justice Department, possibly at the White House“s direction, fired some prosecutors for improper reasons.
No such evidence has surfaced, giving Congress a much weaker hand if this heightened constitutional showdown were to end up in court, according to legal analysts.
When asked what the next step will be in this confrontation, the administration official said, That”s entirely up to Congress.