- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Former White House political director Sara M. Taylor told a congressional panel today that she did not discuss or meet with President Bush about removing federal prosecutors before eight of them were fired.

“I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys,” Ms. Taylor said under stern questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy. “I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed.”

When asked more broadly whether the president was involved in any way in the firings, she said, “I don’t have any knowledge that he was.”

Ms. Taylor, who left the White House eight weeks ago for reasons she said were unrelated to the firings, was treading a rough line between obeying Mr. Bush’s order to not reveal internal White House deliberations about the firings and a congressional subpoena compelling her to do so.

Ms. Taylor at first refused to answer questions that might violate Mr. Bush’s claim of executive privilege and at one point reminded the committee that as a commissioned officer, “I took an oath and I take that oath to the president very seriously.”

Seeing a chance to weaken Ms. Taylor’s observance of Mr. Bush’s executive privilege claim, Mr. Leahy corrected her: She took an oath to uphold the Constitution.

“Your oath is not to uphold the president,” the Vermont Democrat said.

The exchange was part of proceedings that were as much about the ongoing dispute over what information the White House can keep secret as it was about the stated topic — the firings over the winter of eight U.S. attorneys.

Ms. Taylor began by telling the committee she would observe Mr. Bush’s directive to defy the subpoena and refuse to answer questions — unless a court ordered her to do so.

Democrats insisted that the decision to cooperate — or not — with their subpoena was hers.

“It is apparent that this White House is contemptuous of the Congress and feels that it does not have to explain itself to anybody,” Mr. Leahy said as he opened the hearing. “I urge Ms. Taylor not to follow that contemptuous position and not to follow the White House down this path.”

With that, Democrats and ranking Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania began to try to unravel Ms. Taylor’s adherence to Mr. Bush’s directions.

Democrats noted that Ms. Taylor, 32, is a private citizen compelled by subpoena to testify, under threat of being held in contempt of Congress. During a first round of questioning, Mr. Leahy asked Ms. Taylor repeatedly whether she had met with or talked to Mr. Bush about the replacement of U.S. attorneys. Ms. Taylor repeatedly refused to answer, citing Mr. Bush’s instructions.

She got some backup from Mr. Specter.

“I think your declining to answer the last series of questions by the chairman was correct under the direction from White House counsel,” Mr. Specter said.

“Whether White House counsel is correct on the assertion of executive privilege is a matter which will be decided by the courts,” Mr. Specter added. But, in the senator’s view, “congressional oversight has the better of the argument.”

Nonetheless, Democrats pressed Ms. Taylor.

Under questioning from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, Ms. Taylor acknowledged that she did not recall agreeing to observe Mr. Bush’s instructions after her White House employment ended.

Apart from her comments about Mr. Bush, Ms. Taylor revealed a few other details: She said she did not recall ordering the addition or deletion of names to the list of prosecutors to be fired. And she disputed testimony by D. Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’ chief of staff, that Ms. Taylor wanted to avoid submitting a new prosecutor, Tim Griffin, through Senate confirmation.

“I expected him to go through Senate confirmation,” Ms. Taylor said under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.

Ms. Taylor also issued a stiff defense of her colleagues in the Bush administration.

“I don’t believe there was any wrongdoing by anybody,” she said. “I don’t believe anybody in the White House did any wrongdoing.”

Some lawmakers said that by picking and choosing what questions to answer, she weakened Mr. Bush’s executive privilege claim.

“I think sometimes you’ve stepped on one side of the line and then not wanted to step on the other,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “This broad claim of privilege doesn’t stand up.”

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