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Leahy, Senate Panel to Subpoena Bush Officials

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to give Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) the power to subpoena 11 current and former Bush administration officials regarding the recent firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The senators will decide in a week whether to let Leahy subpoena top White House officials, too.

As a result of the vote, Leahy can compel testimony from some of the powerful Justice Department staffers who may have played a key role in the firings — including Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Sampson authored many of the controversial e-mails released this week between the Justice Department and White House. That e-mail correspondence contradicts sworn testimony that Gonzales and his subordinates gave on Capitol Hill.

Sampson resigned Monday. Though a subpoena form has been issued in his name, it remains blank. Leahy said he would prefer not to fill it in. He'd rather have the witnesses testify voluntarily.

"But I want people to know, if I do not get cooperation, I will subpoena," Leahy said. "We will have testimony under oath before this committee. We'll have the chance for both Republicans and Democrats to ask questions. And we'll find out what happened."

The Justice Department called the subpoenas unnecessarily political.

Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "We have clearly communicated to the Congress our willingness to make available, voluntarily, department employees whom the Congress wishes to interview privately and in public hearings. We are disappointed that some members of the Judiciary Committee chose to disregard these facts."

After the committee voted to approve subpoena authority for the Justice Department officials, the only question was whether Leahy would get the same authority for top White House officials: Political adviser Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Miers' deputy, William Kelley. Using a rule that lets a party delay such action for a week, ranking Republican Arlen Specter (D-PA) urged the committee to proceed with caution.

"Let's give them a chance to respond before we get tough," Specter said.

Specter said subpoenas suggest guilt, and he'd rather not make that judgment yet. Leahy said the White House subpoenas will be the first order of business when the committee meets next week.

As Congress discusses subpoenas, the White House is trying to figure out whether it will voluntarily let Rove and others testify. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that he saw encouraging signs in a Wednesday night meeting with new White House counsel Fred Fielding.

"He expressed the desire to be as cooperative as the Justice Department is being, which would be great," Schumer said of his meeting with Fielding. "He said he'd have to talk to his higher-ups, and he mentioned the president explicitly, to get the OK to do that. And he said we'll have an answer Friday."

These negotiations are taking place as Attorney General Gonzales fights to keep his job. On Thursday, Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire became the first Republican to join his Democratic colleagues in calling for President Bush to fire his old friend.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said in response to Sununu's remarks, "We're disappointed, obviously."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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