- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Democratic-led congressional committees yesterday approved subpoenas for Bush administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and an aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove, as part of their tightening scrutiny of the executive branch.

Republicans objected, saying the move was at attempt to embarrass the Bush administration.

Most notably, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 21-10 to bring in Miss Rice to testify about prewar intelligence — one of the latest examples of Democrats conducting executive branch oversight now that they control Congress.

“The Republicans on this committee had four years to investigate,” said committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat. “But they didn’t hold one hearing. The days of averting our eyes about the hard questions are over.”

Mr. Waxman said the secretary of state has “refused” to address “key unanswered questions” about her role in President Bush’s false claim that Saddam Hussein was trying to get uranium from Niger for weapons of mass destruction just before the Iraq invasion in 2003.

But Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the ranking panel Republican and the committee’s former chairman, said those questions “have been asked and answered.” He dismissed Mr. Waxman’s efforts as a “witch hunt.”

The State Department said Miss Rice has more important things to do than testifying on the Niger matter.

“The secretary has addressed this four-year-old issue on many occasions, and the subject already has been exhaustively investigated,” spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

Department officials later said they would try to answer the committee’s questions but indicated that Miss Rice might not comply with a subpoena.

Other actions on Capitol Hill yesterday highlight Democrats’ aggressive tactics and indicate that the next two years will see more hearings.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a subpoena and agreed to grant immunity for Monica Goodling, a top aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, in the ongoing furor over the federal prosecutors whom Mr. Gonzales fired earlier this year.

Before resigning, she announced that she would invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating herself, so the judiciary panel voted 32-6 to give her immunity to compel her testimony.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a subpoena related to the U.S. attorneys matter for Rove deputy Sara Taylor.

The oversight panel agreed to subpoena the Republican National Committee for documents outlining the 37 White House officials who have RNC e-mail accounts and to investigate the disappearance of millions of political e-mails.

House panels have conducted 173 full committee oversight hearings in the fewer than 110 days that the Democrats have been in power. Senate panels and subcommittees have held 313 oversight hearings as of yesterday.

House Republicans say they conducted plenty of such hearings when they were in charge — pointing out the Government Reform Committee held 256 oversight hearings “on everything from steroids in baseball to contracting in Iraq” in 2005 and 2006.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio dismissed the Democrats’ subpoenas as a “partisan show trial” and “a waste of time and taxpayer dollars” that undermine U.S. diplomacy overseas.

Mr. Waxman said he wants to seek a balance between the abuse of subpoena power he observed during the Clinton administration, when the panel’s chairman issued more than 1,000 to the Democratic White House, and the past few years, when Mr. Davis, as chairman, issued just a handful.

“This committee has lived at two extremes, and neither has served the public well,” he said. “My goal is to conduct investigations without subpoenas. But if we are stonewalled, we can’t hesitate to use the power we have.”

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said she understands Congress’ oversight role and said the White House has been responsive, but contended: “There is a difference between oversight and overreaching.”

• Nicholas Kralev and Jon Ward contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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