- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

3:07 p.m.

Democratic senators today took the first step toward issuing subpoenas for Bush administration officials — including presidential adviser Karl Rove — in their probe into the firing last year of eight federal prosecutors.

“If I do not get cooperation, I will subpoena,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, urged caution about issuing subpoenas for White House officials, but said he is willing to vote in favor of the subpoenas if Mr. Rove and others do not agree to testify under oath willingly.

“Let’s give them a chance to respond before we get tough,” Mr. Specter said.

In addition to Mr. Rove, Democrats want to hear from former White House counsel Harriet Miers and deputy White House counsel William K. Kelley.

Mr. Leahy had scheduled the committee for a vote on White House subpoenas, but Mr. Specter requested that the vote be held over for a week.

The committee did vote to authorize subpoenas for six of the eight fired prosecutors, as well as for five Justice Department officials and one former Justice official who resigned this week because of his role in the firings.

Once subpoenas are authorized, the chairman can then issue them at his discretion, “in consultation with the ranking member,” a Leahy spokeswoman said.

“I hope to obtain [White House] cooperation … without having to utilize subpoenas. Having the authority from the committee to proceed, as needed, will be helpful in that regard,” Mr. Leahy said.

White House officials said earlier this week that it was “highly unlikely” any Bush administration personnel would testify.

But spokesman Tony Snow said White House counsel Fred F. Fielding was in talks with members of Congress.

“They’re going to be working it out over the next few days,” Mr. Snow said of possible testimony.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, met with Mr. Fielding yesterday and said the White House counsel “expressed a desire to be as cooperative as the Justice Department is being.”

Mr. Schumer said Mr. Fielding promised an answer by tomorrow.

Congress wants to know how heavily the White House influenced the Justice Department’s firing of the eight U.S. attorneys.

Top Justice officials had told Congress in sworn testimony that the White House simply signed off on department recommendations. The White House had said the same.

But e-mails released this week showed that Miss Miers began the conversation about potential firings nearly two years ago by suggesting that all 93 U.S. attorneys be replaced.

The e-mails also showed that other White House officials, including Mr. Rove’s deputy, J. Scott Jennings, corresponded with Justice officials about the firings.

“We now have strong reason to believe that, despite the earlier protestations to the contrary, Karl Rove and other operatives at the White House and in the Republican Party played a role” in the firings, Mr. Leahy said.

Mr. Schumer called the e-mails “astonishing.”

The chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, D. Kyle Sampson, resigned Monday. Mr. Gonzales and the White House have said Mr. Sampson erred in not informing his colleagues and superiors at Justice of his talks with White House staff, which led to inaccurate congressional testimony.

But Congress wants to know whether the fired attorneys were targeted — at least in one instance — because they were pursuing corruption charges against Republican congressmen.

Carol Lam, the fired U.S. attorney from southern California, convicted former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican, for accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.

Mrs. Lam was reported to be expanding her investigation to include Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, when she was removed on Dec. 7, 2006.

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