- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

Key Senate Republicans yesterday backed the White House’s refusal of Democratic demands that Karl Rove testify under oath in public about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, a stance that the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat labeled as a “nonstarter.”

Also yesterday, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska became the third Republican senator to call for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to resign over the firings and whether he or Justice Department officials misled Congress.

“I would vastly prefer to have the proceedings be public,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who has offered a compromise that Mr. Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers testify in public but not under oath. “I think it can be worked out.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he thinks Mr. Rove and Mrs. Miers could be allowed to testify privately, while a public transcript could be made available afterward.

“If you start subpoenaing the advisers to the president about firing and hiring and getting into the Karl Rove-Harriet Miers under-oath deal, you’re going to go to court,” said Mr. Graham, a lawyer with the Air Force Reserves. “The way to handle this, in my opinion, is to have a private conference, interview, with Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and have a transcript so we know what happened.”

Mr. Specter appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Mr. Graham appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The Justice Department and White House have said eight U.S. attorneys, who serve at the president’s will but customarily have four-year terms, were fired for performance-based reasons, while some of the attorneys have claimed they were forced out after being illegally pressured by lawmakers.

While Mr. Graham and Mr. Specter were critical of Mr. Gonzales’ performance since the attorneys’ story first emerged, both said the attorney general should not be forced out because of press pressure.

“We should allow him to tell his side of the story, ask him hard questions, not run him off because of newspaper articles,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Specter said that while the nation needs an attorney general who is “candid and truthful,” he would wait until Mr. Gonzales testifies before the committee on the dismissals at what the Pennsylvanian called a “make-or-break” April 17 hearing.

But he added: “I’m not going to convict anybody for what appears in the newspapers or on television.”

However, Mr. Hagel, who is considering a 2008 presidential campaign, said he doesn’t think Mr. Gonzales should stay in his post.

“Well, I do not,” the Nebraska Republican said, when asked by host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” whether he “could still serve effectively.”

“I think the president is going to have to make a tough choice here. … He surely cannot be burdened by his chief law-enforcement officer under a cloud,” he said.

The other two Republican senators who have called for Mr. Gonzales to resign, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, are both up for re-election next year.

Mr. Hagel said he also thinks the administration should allow Mr. Rove and Mrs. Miers to appear before the Judiciary Committee under oath.

“That’s the way I would do it,” he said on ABC. “I think we have a very clear past record of other presidents taking that same course of action. President Reagan did that on Iran-Contra.”

“That’s a nonstarter,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of the White House’s refusal of under-oath, public testimony. “I want them in the open, under oath, publicly, where both Republican senators and Democratic senators can ask questions.”

“This administration has been used to going unchecked. The balances kicked in last November, and they’re going to have to deal with that reality,” Mr. Leahy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Leahy’s panel has authorized, though not issued, subpoenas for Mr. Rove and other top White House staff members — another move the administration has said it would resist and fight in the courts.

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