- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

House Democrats today subpoenaed Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for additional Justice Department records, angering Republicans but saying they need the documents to determine if eight federal prosecutors were illegally or improperly fired last year.

“This information is clearly relevant to our inquiry into indications that U.S. attorneys and candidates may have been evaluated based on improper considerations, including their willingness to make decisions as to prosecution of public corruption cases,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, in a letter to Mr. Gonzales.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said they had provided “an extraordinary amount of information to the Congress” already, and signaled that they would try to negotiate with Democrats before turning over all the subpoenaed documents.

Congressional staffers have been able to review the documents that have been subpoenaed, but only at the Justice Department, without the ability to take notes or make copies.

Mr. Conyers wants Justice to release information blacked out on about 3,400 pages of documents already released. Most of the redacted information has to do with which U.S. attorneys “were considered for termination but were ultimately retained,” Mr. Conyers said.

Mr. Roehrkasse said that “because there are individual privacy interests implicated by publicly releasing this information, it is unfortunate the Congress would choose this option.”

“In light of these concerns, we will continue to work closely with congressional staff and we still hope and expect that we will be able to reach an accommodation with the Congress,” Mr. Roehrkasse said.

Mr. Roehrkasse also pointed out that the Justice Department has released the 3,400 pages of documents and also made several top Justice officials available for interviews with congressional staff.

In addition, Mr. Gonzales’ former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, who resigned over the firings, testified for seven hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

But Mr. Conyers said that Justice “is currently withholding signification information.”

Mr. Conyers’ letter states that the Justice Department’s response so far in providing information has been “incomplete” and “falls short of what is needed.”

The subpoena instructs Mr. Gonzales to turn over the information by April 16, one day before Mr. Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Spokespersons for Mr. Conyers did not respond to a request for an interview or for a fuller explanation of how the information subpoenaed would help ferret out any illegalities.

Democrats say that several of the fired U.S. attorneys were investigating Republican politicians for corruption when they were dismissed, but they have offered no proof that the Bush administration fired them for these reasons.

The Justice Department has said that seven of the eight attorneys were fired for performance-related reasons.

The White House did not comment on the subpoena.

“The Justice Department has been working very hard to be fully responsive to the request” from Congress for information, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at a midday briefing.

But another White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, declined to comment on the subpoena later in the day, after having a chance to review the document.

Republicans decried the subpoena as political grandstanding.

“I’ve seen no compelling reason why a subpoena is necessary at this time to facilitate the investigation. These subpoenas have more to do with TV coverage than uncovering the facts,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee.

An aide to Senate Republican leaders said he found it “interesting” that Democrats had time to issue subpoenas during their week off but did not have time to work on a supplemental funding bill for the war in Iraq.

Mr. Conyers’ subpoena also demanded any documents “generated for the purpose of responding to congressional (or media) inquiries.”

He said that resignations by Mr. Sampson and by Mr. Gonzales’ legal counsel, Monica Goodling, “have only increased my conviction that the subcommittee must have all potentially relevant information […] without further delay.”

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