White House: Karl Rove, Harriet Miers Won't Testify Under Oath
NewsMax.com Wires
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The White House offered Tuesday to make political strategist Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers available for interviews - but not testimony under oath - before congressional committees investigating the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said he would still press for White House aides to testify under oath, saying that White House counsel Fred Fielding "indicated he didn't want to negotiate" whether Rove and others would have to appear in a full hearing. "That doesn't mean we're not going to try," Schumer said.

The White House move was announced after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the Bush administration's ability to unilaterally fill U.S. attorney vacancies. That had come as a backlash to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' firing of the prosecutors.

Gonzales got a morale boost with an early-morning call from President Bush, their first conversation since a week ago, when the president said he was unhappy with how the Justice Department handled the firings.

The White House offered to arrange interviews with Rove, Miers, deputy White House counsel William Kelley and J. Scott Jennings, a deputy to White House political director Sara Taylor, who works for Rove.

"Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony, or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas," Fielding said in a letter to the chairman of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

In the letter, Fielding said the more than 3,000 documents released by the Justice Department "do not reflect that any U.S. attorney was replaced to interfere with a pending or future criminal investigation or for any other improper reason."

Schumer, however, had problems with it.

"It's sort of giving us the opportunity to talk to them but not giving us the opportunity to figure out what really happened here," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the White House said Bush planned a statement late Tuesday afternoon upon his return from a trip to Kansas City.

The fast-moving developments came as the administration sought to fend off withering Democratic attacks from Capitol Hill in connection with the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors. Democrats have asserted the U.S. attorneys were improperly ousted.

Bush has said that he was not happy with the way the Justice Department explained the firings to Congress, but has said they were, indeed, appropriate.

The White House offer came not long after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that strips from the administration its authority to unilaterally name federal prosecutors.

In his letter, Fielding said the White House was willing to provide lawmakers with wide access.

"These documents, together with the interviews to be provided by department officials, will provide extensive background on the decisions in question, including an account of communications between the department and senior White House officials," he wrote. "Congress, in short, is receiving a virtually unprecedented window into personnel decision-making within the executive branch."

Fielding also said that in addition to interviews the White House will provide documents on communications between the White House and the Department of Justice concerning the request for resignations of the U.S. attorneys and between White House staff and members of Congress, their aides and others.

Earlier, the Senate by a 94-2 vote passed a bill that would cancel the attorney general's power to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. Democrats say the administration abused that authority when it fired the eight prosecutors and proposed replacing some with White House loyalists.

"If you politicize the prosecutors, you politicize everybody in the whole chain of law enforcement," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The bill, which has yet to be considered in the House, would set a 120-day deadline for the administration to appoint an interim prosecutor. If the interim appointment is not confirmed by the Senate in that time, a permanent replacement would be named by a federal district judge.

Essentially, the Senate returned the law regarding the appointments of U.S. attorneys to where it was before Congress passed the Patriot Act, including the unilateral appointment authority the administration had sought in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The White House denied reports that it was looking for possible successors for Gonzales.

Bush called Gonzales from the Oval Office at 7:15 a.m. EDT and they spoke for several minutes about the political uproar.

Meeting later with reporters, White House press secretary Tony Snow characterized Bush's call to the attorney general as "a very strong vote of confidence."

But the day grew more difficult for Gonzales as another Republican, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, called for his resignation.

"Alberto Gonzales has repeatedly shown that he is unwilling to enforce the law and unable to effectively manage the Department," said Tancredo, a longshot presidential candidate.

Congressional investigators late Monday started sifting through 3,000-pages of e-mails and other material provided by the administration. Some of the documents spelled out fears in the administration that the dismissals might not stand up to scrutiny.

The documents told much of the story of the run-up to the firings and the administration's attempt to choreograph them to reduce the bloodletting. It didn't work out that way - the prosecutors were shocked and angered by the dismissals, the lack of explanation from the Justice Department and news reports that the administration fired the eight for performance reasons.

Speculation has abounded over who might succeed Gonzales if he doesn't survive the current political tumult. Possible candidates include White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, federal appeals judge Laurence Silberman and PepsiCo attorney Larry Thompson, who was the government's highest ranking black law enforcement official when he was deputy attorney general during Bush's first term.

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