- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2007

President Bush yesterday announced that he will cite executive privilege and refuse congressional subpoenas issued earlier this month that sought documents related to the firing of eight federal prosecutors last year.

“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 to the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

“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.

But Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and 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.”

Mr. Conyers’ Senate counterpart, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, said it was “a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances.”

Mr. Fielding, however, contended 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.”

The White House and Congress also have clashed over whether a transcript of the private hearings would be provided.

The two former officials subpoenaed for testimony and documents are former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and former White House Political Director Sara Taylor.

But the Bush administration has not budged from their position, stated by Mr. Fielding’s letter, that “for the president to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisors and between those advisors and others within and outside the Executive branch.”

The president is entitled to hire and fire U.S. attorneys at his pleasure. Congress, however, is seeking evidence that the Justice Department, possibly at the White House’s behest, fired some prosecutors for improper reasons.

A former White House counsel to President Clinton said the constitutional showdown will be decided in the court of public opinion.

“What matters is what the people say,” said Abner Mikva, White House counsel from 1994 to 1995. “Congress will win not as a legal matter but as a political matter.”

Enforcement of subpoenas requires a full House vote, and if no compromise is then reached, and the president continued to assert privilege, Congress could then take the case to court.