- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

The White House yesterday said its offer to allow Congress interviews with top administration officials will be voided if Democrats issue subpoenas, sending out the warning after a House subcommittee authorized subpoenas but did not issue them.

“If they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow. “There is an important distinction between authorizing subpoenas and issuing them.”

Mr. Snow elaborated that Congress’ issuing subpoenas would be interpreted by the White House as meaning that Congress had “rejected the offer” made by President Bush to talk to administration officials in private without a transcript and not under oath about the firing of eight federal prosecutors last year. Mr. Bush has said he will go to court to fight subpoenas of White House advisers.

“Are we going to change our conditions? No, but it’s probably worth giving members of Congress a little time to think about this,” Mr. Snow said.

A House Judiciary subcommittee yesterday authorized on a voice vote the issuance of subpoenas for top political adviser Karl Rove, and former White House counsel and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, can now issue the subpoenas at his discretion.

“The White House’s offer provides nothing more than conversations. It does not allow this committee to get the information we need without transcripts or oaths,” Mr. Conyers said. “We are continuing our talks with the White House, along with the Senate.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a Senate Judiciary Committee member, said he didn’t want a showdown either.

“I would hope we can negotiate,” he said. His panel is scheduled to vote today on whether to authorize its own subpoenas on Mr. Rove and Miss Miers, with the measure expected to pass mostly along party lines.

But Mr. Conyers added that Congress will keep “the option to move forward with our investigation with or without continued cooperation from the administration.” And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada dismissed the White House offer, saying “anyone who would take that deal isn’t playing with a full deck.”

If Democrats go forward and issue subpoenas, Mr. Bush would most likely ignore them, forcing Democrats to take him to court by a full House vote to enforce the subpoenas, said John Fortier, a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

The legal case would revolve over the extent of the president’s “executive privilege” and would likely go to a three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit Court, and then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Fortier said.

“Executive privilege is not an absolute barrier to testifying, but it is a long recognized principle grounded in the need for candid and confidential exchanges among members of a single branch,” said Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Congress wants to delve into whether the White House fired the eight prosecutors for improper reasons. Democrats want to know, for example, whether Carol Lam was dismissed from her post as the U.S. attorney for California’s southern district, because she had convicted one Republican congressman for corruption and was expanding her probe to include another Republican congressman.

The Justice Department and the White House say Mrs. Lam was fired for not prosecuting enough illegal-immigration cases, and insist all the firings were performance-based.

Even so, Mr. Bush himself said Tuesday that “the announcement of this decision and the subsequent explanation of these changes has been confusing and, in some cases, incomplete.”

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has come under calls from Democrats and some Republicans to resign, because he and other top Justice officials gave inaccurate testimony to Congress in recent weeks. Mr. Gonzales’ chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, resigned last week, and administration officials have blamed him for the inaccurate testimony, saying he left top officials out of the loop.

But Mr. Bush said Tuesday that he will “not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants” and promised to take the fight over subpoenas to court.

Mr. Snow said that Mr. Bush has set conditions on the interviews with administration officials because “what we want to avoid is the trappings of a media spectacle.”

Mr. Snow said there is no need for a transcript because Congress is on a “fact-finding mission” and will be having a “conversation” with the officials, instead of holding a hearing or trial.

“The decision … lies not with the White House, but with Congress,” Mr. Snow said.

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