- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

President Bush this evening warned congressional Democrats not to subpoena top White House officials involved in the firing of eight federal prosecutors last year, saying he will “oppose any attempt to subpoena White House officials.”

“We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants,” said Mr. Bush, in a hastily arranged press conference at the White House, after returning from a day-long trip to Kansas and Missouri.

Mr. Bush reaffirmed his support for embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a long-time ally, whose chief of staff resigned last week over the imbroglio.

“I support the attorney general,” said Mr. Bush, who also called Mr. Gonzales early this morning to communicate his support.

Democratic leaders, confounded and angered after an afternoon meeting with Mr. Bush’s top attorney, Fred F. Fielding, responded to the president’s warning with defiant vows to press ahead with subpoenas.

“The judiciary committee … will follow this investigation where it leads.We have an obligation — far above party, far above partisanship — to our country and its system of justice,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, said from the Senate floor. “We will not be deterred … The truth will come out.”

Mr. Schumer said the Senate Judiciary Committee “will move forward” Thursday, as scheduled, with authorizing subpoenas for presidential adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Once subpoenas are authorized, committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, can then issue them any time, in consultation with the ranking Republican member of the committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Specter has said he is in favor of issuing subpoenas if the White House does not cooperate, but indicated tonight that he is content with the president’s proposal, for now.

“I would prefer to have the interviews in public, but it is more important to get the information promptly than to have months or years of litigation,” Mr. Specter said. “If we are dissatisfied with the information provided in the manner offered by the president, we can always issue subpoenas.”

Mr. Specter has also accused Mr. Schumer of having “a conflict of interest,” because Mr. Schumer chairs a subcommittee that has spearheaded the attorneys probe, but is also the chairman of the Senate Democrats’ chief fundraising arm.

A Senate judiciary committee aide said that the subpoenas, once authorized, would only be issued “in case they’re needed.”

Mr. Fielding, the president’s chief counsel, offered Democrats a chance to interview Mr. Rove and Miss Miers — but in private, without a transcript and not under oath.

“It’s sort of giving us an opportunity to talk to them, but not giving us the opportunity to get to the bottom of what really happened here,” Mr. Schumer said after the meeting, who called it a “clever” move by the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Mr. Rove should testify under oath.

“If Karl Rove plans to tell the truth, he has nothing to fear from being under oath like any other witness,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. Bush said he wants to preserve his staff’s ability to give “candid advice.”

“If the staff of a president operated in constant fear of being called before various committees, to discuss internal deliberations, the president would not receive candid advice, and the American people would be ill-served,” Mr. Bush said.

The Senate also today voted overwhelmingly, 94-to-2, to strip the attorney general of a recently created power to appoint interim U.S. attorneys, saying Mr. Gonzales had abused the statute, which was part of the 2006 Patriot Act renewal.

Democrats, and some Republicans, want to find out whether the White House dismissed the federal prosecutors to derail corruption probes into Republican lawmakers.

Mr. Bush said there was “no indication that anybody did anything improper,” and said that Democrats needed to read the roughly 3,000 pages of e-mails, memos and other documents released by the Justice Department last night and this afternoon.

The Washington Times reviewed the 939 pages of documents released late last night. The documents gave an overall negative view — one not previously disclosed in public — of seven of the eight dismissed prosecutors.

Scathing criticisms of each of the dismissed prosecutors, save one, were included in the communications.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the documents showed that the attorneys were fired for performance-based reasons, not for “partisan recrimination.”

Support for Mr. Gonzales among Capitol Hill Republicans is mixed.

Several Republicans, including Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican and longtime critic of the Justice Department, said today there is no reason why Mr. Gonzales should resign.

“This is a big hoopla,” Mr. Lott said. “He didn’t do anything illegal. He didn’t do anything improper.”

However, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, joined the handful of Republicans who have called on Mr. Gonzales to resign.

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