Bush Invokes Broad Privilege to Block Rove Testimony
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Administration Again Rebuffs Senators [
Bush Invokes Executive Privilege for Rove in Attorney Firings
By Greg Gordon
Wednesday 01 August 2007
Washington - Ratcheting up the stakes in a legal battle with Congress, President Bush on Wednesday ordered White House adviser Karl Rove and a senior political aide to refuse on grounds of executive privilege to testify before the Senate on the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders, White House counsel Fred Fielding declared that Rove, "as an immediate presidential advisor, is immune from compelled congressional testimony" about matters involving his service to the president.
While deputy White House political affairs director Scott Jennings is expected to appear before the committee Thursday, Fielding said that he, too, has been directed "not to produce any documents or to provide any testimony" covered by the privilege claim.
The decision throws a huge roadblock in the way of a seven-month-old congressional investigation and moves the confrontation between Congress and the White House closer to a constitutional showdown in the courts.
The House Judiciary Committee last week voted to initiate contempt of Congress charges against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and Bush's former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, who refused to appear on Bush's orders. A former Rove aide, Sara Taylor, gave limited testimony due to a similar privilege claim.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called it "a shame that this White House continues to act as if it is above the law."
"Why is the White House working so hard to hide Karl Rove's involvement?" Leahy said in a statement Wednesday. "Mr. Rove has given reasons for the firings that have now been shown to be inaccurate after-the-fact fabrications. Yet he now refuses to tell this committee the truth about his role in targeting well-respected U.S. attorneys for firing and in seeking to cover up his role and that of his staff in the scandal."
Jennings is of interest mainly because of his involvement in fielding complaints last year from New Mexico Republicans about the performance of that state's U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, who later was among those fired. Iglesias has since charged that he was fired for political reasons.
Democrats are investigating whether the firings were connected to prosecutors' corruption investigations of Republicans or refusals to bring voter-fraud cases against Democratic-leaning registration workers.
The White House, which denies that the firings were retaliatory or improper, is basing its executive privilege position on legal guidance from the Justice Department that it would violate the constitutional separation of powers to compel testimony from Rove and Jennings. The department also has maintained since 1984 that it is not bound to enforce a congressional contempt citation against an administration official who, under presidential orders, defies a congressional subpoena on grounds of executive privilege.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, central figures in the scandal, have recused themselves from advising the White House on the subpoena fight. The White House released letters supporting the executive privilege claim from Solicitor General Paul Clement, who's serving as acting attorney general in the matter, and Steve Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general.
Meanwhile, Gonzales on Wednesday tried to quell a furor over his testimony last week that there were no disagreements between him and then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey in March 2004 over the administration's secret terrorist surveillance program.
Comey testified this spring that he, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and several other senior department officials threatened to resign unless some warrantless spying activities were halted.
Gonzales said in a letter to Leahy on Wednesday that his "shorthand" answers to the panel to shield classified information may have created confusion. He acknowledged that there were "very serious disagreements" over other intelligence activities, but not the surveillance program in which the National Security Agency intercepted overseas phone calls.
Leahy, however, dismissed Gonzales' letter as a "legalistic explanation of his misleading testimony" and gave him until Friday to correct the record.
Administration Again Rebuffs Senators
By Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen
The Washington Post
Thursday 02 August 2007
Rove ordered not to cooperate; Gonzales refuses to alter testimony.
The Bush administration pushed back against congressional Democrats on two fronts yesterday, as the White House formally directed senior adviser Karl Rove not to cooperate with a Senate probe into the firing of U.S. attorneys and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales declined to alter testimony that some senators have described as misleading.
The actions seemed certain to heighten the confrontation between Congress and the administration over a pair of investigations, one looking into whether politics tainted the removal of nine senior federal prosecutors, the other involving the legality of a surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency.
As expected, the White House invoked executive privilege in declining to allow Rove and one of his aides, J. Scott Jennings, to provide documents or testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is exploring Rove's role in the firing of U.S. attorneys.
White House counsel Fred F. Fielding wrote to the committee that the decision was rooted in the president's determination to protect "the ability of future Presidents to ensure that the Executive's decisions reflect and benefit from the candid exchange of informed and diverse viewpoints." Fielding provided the Judiciary Committee an opinion from the Justice Department that Rove, as an immediate presidential adviser, is "immune from compelled congressional testimony about matters that arose during his tenure and that relate to his official duties in that capacity."
He made no such claim for Jennings, and the committee said it expects Jennings to appear at 10 a.m. today. But Fielding's letter makes clear that the aide will decline to answer questions about the U.S. attorney matter, although he could be asked about other matters.
Meanwhile, Gonzales sought to clear up questions about his credibility stemming from his testimony on the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. He acknowledged that his previous testimony to the committee may have been confusing but said there was no intent to mislead and declined to change his testimony.
"I am deeply concerned with suggestions that my testimony was misleading, and am determined to address any such impression" he said in a letter to Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Arlen Specter (Pa.) the ranking Republican.
In the letter, Gonzales confirms that there was "serious disagreement" within the Justice Department about the NSA activities that were ordered by President Bush in late 2001. But as he has testified before, Gonzales also said there was no such disagreement about the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.
The letter acknowledges, however, that even that part of the NSA's activities - later known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program - prompted "intense deliberations" within the Justice Department in 2004. Gonzales acknowledged that his previous statements "may have created confusion," especially for lawmakers and others who refer to all the activities as "a single NSA 'program.' "
The two-page letter, which includes a greater degree of detail than Gonzales had previously offered on the subject, appears aimed at heading off calls by some Democrats for a perjury investigation into parts of his previous testimony.
Leahy was not mollified by what he called a "legalistic explanation" by Gonzales and said the attorney general has until tomorrow "to correct and supplement his testimony." He said in a statement: "It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing."
Leahy also sharply criticized the White House for refusing to allow Rove to appear, asking, "Why is the White House working so hard to hide Karl Rove's involvement?"
Fielding said he regretted that the Judiciary Committee had not availed itself of President Bush's offer to make officials available as long as they would not be under oath and no transcript would be made.
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