- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

A House committee, angry over Attorney General John Ashcroft's refusal to turn over documents showing why some cases were not prosecuted, has raised the stakes with a new round of subpoenas.

In what has become a bitter battle between the Republican-controlled House Government Reform Committee and Republicans at the Justice Department and the White House, the committee yesterday expanded its list of subpoenas to include the FBI's handling of more than a dozen cases involving Boston area mobsters and informants. Meanwhile, sources say the White House is considering a claim of executive privilege to protect the records.

Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, had asked Mr. Ashcroft for records showing why the Justice Department failed to pursue several high-profile cases, including two involving suspected campaign-finance abuses during the 1996 presidential election.

Mr. Burton said there was "no valid legal" reason why the records were being withheld and compared Mr. Ashcroft's actions to the "stonewalling" tactics of his predecessor, Janet Reno. He said Mr. Ashcroft, a former U.S. senator who chided Miss Reno for refusing to make records available, had "one standard for a Democrat attorney general and another standard for yourself."

"It is hard to believe that public confidence in our investigators and prosecutors can be restored by an inflexible policy that prevents Congress from discharging a constitutionally mandated duty. If this unprecedented policy is permitted to stand, Congress will not be able to exercise meaningful oversight of the executive branch," Mr. Burton said.

Congressional sources confirmed yesterday that President Bush has told White House Counsel Al Gonzales to be ready to invoke executive privilege over the issue of whether the documents should be released.

The privilege claim, recognized by the courts, ensures that a president can receive candid and private advice without fear of it becoming public. The White House, according to the sources, has concluded that advice given to the attorney general about pending investigations should remain private.

Mr. Ashcroft has said through a spokesman that while Mr. Burton's desire to gain additional information about past decisions is "understandable," the department would resist any request that could "undermine its mission to protect and defend justice."

"The oversight responsibility of Congress is fundamental to the constitutional system of checks and balances," said Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden.

"However, the types of memoranda being sought by Chairman Burton contain advice to the attorney general and other senior officials, and are among the most sensitive deliberative documents, precisely because they pertain to prosecutorial decision-making," she said.

In a 1998 CNN interview, Mr. Ashcroft then a senator said Miss Reno was obligated to turn over prosecutorial records sought by Senate and House committees since Congress was entitled to see them. He said Miss Reno had "learned from the president a technique we call stonewalling."

Mr. Burton referred to this statement in a letter to the attorney general last week.

"Your position in 1998 was unambiguous, and it was correct. Thus, I am at a loss as to why you would take a contradictory position just a few years later," Mr. Burton said.

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