- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

A top adviser to President Bush called on House Democrats yesterday to cancel a $225,000 contract that will pay private lawyers for help on a congressional probe of the Bush administration.

Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the deal was “a contract at taxpayers’ expense — to hire an outside law firm to help them in this partisan fishing expedition, only to help Democrats.”

Mr. Bartlett also called on Democrats to move up congressional testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Mr. Gonzales is scheduled to testify on April 17 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but offered Saturday to testify the week after Easter Sunday, April 9 to April 13.

“Let’s move it up, and let’s get to the facts,” said Mr. Bartlett, who also appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Let’s have the attorney general there sooner rather than later.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, rejected that offer during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We had offered a much earlier date for the attorney general, and they flatly turned it down,” Mr. Leahy said. “They picked the date of April 17. As a result, we went ahead and planned our other hearings.”

Congress is conducting private interviews with several top Justice officials in preparation for Mr. Gonzales’ testimony.

As for the contract with private lawyers, which was first reported by The Washington Times, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, defended the expenditure.

“Consultant contracts are standard operating procedure in the House,” he said, adding that Republicans spent $1.6 million on such contracts during their 12 years in control of Congress.

Republicans, however, said that such contracts agreed to by Republicans were for work not able to be done by committee staff.

In addition, Judiciary Committee staff said they could not offer any documented evidence for the $1.6 million figure cited.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, also said he could not ever recall paying for extra lawyers in the many investigations he has conducted as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and on other committees.

But a Conyers spokesman said via an e-mail statement that because of “the extraordinary level of activities and legislation the committee is otherwise involved in on a day-to-day basis, it was necessary that we obtain additional support on the matter for a limited period of time.”

The contract specifies that Mr. Conyers’ panel pay $25,000 a month for up to nine months to D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter to “assist Democratic members of the Committee on the Judiciary with issues related to the termination of U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration, possible misrepresentations to Congress, interfering with investigations and matter related thereto.”

The contract also says that Irvin B. Nathan, a partner at Arnold & Porter, will subcontract investigators from the auditing firm, Deloitte & Touche.

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