House Democratic leaders yesterday pressed ahead with efforts to force testimony from top White House aides, filing a civil lawsuit against former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten.
The filing touched off a partisan back and forth between Republican and Democratic leaders.
Republicans called the suit a waste of time and mocked the Democrats as wasting taxpayer time and money in an attempt to impress "loony liberal activists." But Democrats said they were fighting an attempt by President Bush to overreach his powers by widening the definition of executive privilege.
"We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the suit was needed to "defend Congress' subpoena power against the efforts of any administration to hide information in order to prevent the exercise of Congress' oversight and lawmaking responsibilities."
White House press secretary Dana Perino brushed the suit aside as "partisan theater."
House members want Miss Miers and Mr. Bolten to tell them about the White House's role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys late in 2006. The lawmakers suspect political motivations in the firings.
Mr. Conyers' committee issued subpoenas for Miss Miers and Mr. Bolten, who were cited for contempt of Congress by the full House last month for refusing to testify and provide documents related to the firings. Their decision not to testify was supported by the Bush administration, which cited executive privilege.
Mr. Bush has opposed the Democratic probe from the beginning, calling it a "partisan fishing expedition." The president was especially angered last summer when Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a close friend of the president's, resigned under pressure from the U.S. attorneys issue. Most of the top staff at Justice has resigned in the past year.
The Democrats' legal case, however, had stalled until yesterday. Last week, the Justice Department refused to send the House contempt citations to a grand jury. Democrats hope the lawsuit, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, will force a fulfillment of the subpoenas.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the Democrats should be working on updating a foreign surveillance bill instead of picking partisan fights.
"The terrorist threat to our country is not going away, and this sort of pandering to the left-wing fever swamps of loony liberal activists does nothing to make America safer," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.