Monday, April 2, 2007

The hearings over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys are just the start for Democratic congressional investigators, and Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue know it.

For the first time since 1994, Democrats control both houses and have a long list of issues they say demand investigation.

“It’s going to be a problem for this administration over the next three years,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, in a recent speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association.

“The good news is, for lawyers, there’s going to be a lot of work for you all,” Mr. Davis said.

If the attorney firings have been a thorn in the administration’s side for weeks, then Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, is looking to become a brier patch, and the White House has been preparing for his investigatory onslaught for months.

“They’re going to be in our kitchen quite a bit,” a senior administration official said. “What did Waxman say, ‘There are so many I don’t know where to start?’ So I take him at his word. I think it’s going to come from all angles.”

In January, Mr. Bush hired Fred F. Fielding as White House counsel, replacing Harriet Miers, one of the targets of threatened Democratic subpoenas in the attorney firings. Mr. Fielding served in the Nixon White House during Watergate and later became President Reagan’s counsel from 1981 to 1986.

Mr. Fielding has increased the number of White House lawyers from 17 to 19, and is considering adding more, said Emily Lawrimore, White House spokeswoman.

Mr. Waxman, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent seven letters to current and former Bush administration officials last week.

He also held a hearing on whether a briefing of General Services Administration officials by J. Scott Jennings, deputy to presidential adviser Karl Rove, was illegal political activity. Mr. Waxman wants Mr. Rove to testify about whether he approved or planned Mr. Jennings’ PowerPoint presentation, which identified key congressional seats in the 2008 elections.

And Mr. Waxman has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about prewar intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

“They are overdoing this with a vengeance, going after every which way, trying to cripple the administration,” Mr. Davis said. “They are not focusing, for the most part, on policies — just focusing on personalities, focusing on trying to tear things down.”

Phil Schiliro, an oversight committee spokesman, said Mr. Waxman’s “primary focus is on eliminating fraud and waste and making government effective again.”

“The committee also has an obligation to investigate credible allegations of corruption and abuse by government officials, but it won’t repeat the excesses that marked the Republican investigations into the Clinton administration,” Mr. Schiliro said.

Not that the attorney investigations are going away immediately. Democrats rejected an offer this weekend by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to testify earlier than his scheduled date of April 17, saying they first need to interview Justice officials.

In addition, The Washington Times reported last week that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, has contracted to pay $25,000 a month for up to nine months to private lawyers for help with the probe. Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett this weekend called on Democrats to “rescind” the contract.

Mr. Conyers also is seeking information from Mr. Gonzales about whether he advised Mr. Bush to shut down an investigation into the National Security Administration’s then-warrantless wiretapping program, knowing the investigation might look into his own activities.

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