- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

President Bush yesterday said he has instructed two former administration officials not to testify this week before Congress, on the grounds that to comply with a committee’s subpoena would weaken the executive privilege powers of the office.

“The president feels compelled to assert executive privilege, with respect to the testimony sought from Sara M. Taylor and Harriet E. Miers,” said White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House judiciary committees.

“We are extremely disappointed with the White House letter,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“It is apparent that this White House is contemptuous of the Congress and feels that it does not have to explain itself to anyone,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

The president remains willing to provide limited access to documents and private testimony regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, Mr. Fielding said, but not under the compulsion of subpoenas.

Mr. Bush has already asserted executive privilege in response to subpoenas seeking internal documents related to the firings.

Mr. Bush is trying to preserve his ability to “receive candid advice from his advisers,” and the ability of his advisers to “communicate freely and openly with the president, with each other, and with others inside and outside the executive branch,” Mr. Fielding said.

Ms. Taylor, who is scheduled to testify tomorrow, is the former political affairs chief at the White House, where she reported directly to presidential adviser Karl Rove. She resigned in May.

Ms. Miers, the former White House counsel who resigned in January and was replaced by Mr. Fielding, is scheduled to appear Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Leahy called the president’s decision “more stonewalling from a White House that believes it can unilaterally control the other co-equal branches of government” and asked what the Bush administration was hiding.

Mr. Leahy and Mr. Conyers accused the White House of not explaining its claim of executive privilege. Democrats requested an explanation of legal precedent, and a detailed record of every document withheld and the legal reasons for the withholding, called a “privilege log.”

“The White House’s refusal to properly justify its basis for this executive privilege claim raises questions about the validity of its assertion,” Mr. Leahy said.

Mr. Fielding dismissed the request for legal precedents with a single sentence.

“In response to your inquiry concerning the mechanics of the president’s assertion of the privilege, you may be assured that the president’s assertion here comports with prior practices in similar contexts, and that it has been appropriately documented,” Mr. Fielding said.

As for the “privilege log,” Mr. Fielding said he was “aware of no authority by which a congressional committee may ‘direct’ the executive” to compile such a document.

Mr. Conyers and Mr. Leahy said they wanted a “privilege log” to help them determine the validity of the president’s privilege claim.

Mr. Conyers characterized Mr. Bush’s offer of limited documents and interviews as an “unacceptable all-or-nothing position.”

The ranking Republican on Mr. Conyer’s committee, however, said the White House has made a substantive offer to Democrats.

Rep. Chris Cannon, Utah Republican, said that if Democrats “would spend as much time getting to the truth as they do in grasping for headlines, this investigation would have concluded months ago.”

“While executive privilege is not absolute, neither is congressional inquiry,” Mr. Cannon said.

If no agreement is reached, Congress could move to find either Ms. Taylor or Ms. Miers in contempt of Congress, and then take the matter to court.

Ms. Taylor’s attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, asked Mr. Leahy in a letter on Saturday to avoid that outcome.

Mr. Eggleston said Ms. Taylor has done nothing wrong and wants to testify, but is loyal to Mr. Bush, and so he asked Congress, if it cannot reach an agreement, to “direct its sanction against the White House” instead of his client.

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