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Snow: Subpoenas May Lead to Less Cooperation

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (left) speaks with White House spokesman Tony Snow in January. Rove may be forced to testify under oath in the inquiry over eight fired U.S. attorneys.
Jim Watson
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White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (left) speaks with White House spokesman Tony Snow in January. Rove may be forced to testify under oath in the inquiry over eight fired U.S. attorneys.

Congress and the White House are ratcheting up their confrontation over eight dismissed U.S. attorneys — and how top White House officials will testify in an inquiry of the firings. A House panel has voted to authorize subpoenas; it has not yet issued any.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow says President Bush's offer of private conversations without transcriptions is the best way to get the truth. And Snow said that if Congress issues a subpoena, the White House will withdraw its offer to cooperate.

The outcome of the House subcommittee motion to grant subpoena authority was never in doubt: Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel.

But there was some question about how heated the debate would be. Until now, Republicans in Congress have been muted at best when they defend the Justice Department and the White House in the controversy over the U.S. attorney dismissals in 2006.

But as Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) noted, the Republicans met just before the hearing and got on the same page.

"The only purpose of subpoenas issued to the White House now," Cannon said, "is to fan the flames and photo ops of partisan controversy for partisan gain — tactics that impede the discovery of truth."

No subpoenas have yet been issued. And Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said he hopes he doesn't have to use subpoenas. But he added that he has been dissatisfied with the White House's offers of cooperation.

They missed a deadline last week, and their offer to grant interviews does not allow the committee to swear people in, or transcribe their statements.

A Senate committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to grant the same authorization to subpoena White House aides.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said he would prefer voluntary testimony to subpoenas — but, he said, he thinks transcriptions are a good idea.

In a heated White House briefing, spokesman Tony Snow laid down the line: No transcripts, and no oath.

"It's an interview, these are interviews," Snow said. "What you're trying to do is create a courtroom atmosphere."

As reporters called out that the congressional panels want transcripts of their talks with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and other aides, Snow disputed their motives.

"Again, the question is, do they want the truth?" Snow said, "and do they think they're not going to be able to get it? And the answer is, of course they're going to get the truth, they'll get the whole truth."

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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