Subpoenas Target Justice; White House Could be Next


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    Subpoenas Target Justice; White House Could be Next
    CNN News
    Thursday 15 March 2007

  € Senate committee OKs subpoenas for five Justice Department officials.

  € Senate Judiciary chairman says he may subpoena White House staffers.

  € New Hampshire's Sen. John Sununu urges dismissal of attorney general.

  € President says he's "not happy" about mistakes surrounding attorney firings.

Washington - The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he doesn't care
what the White House and Justice Department think of his subpoenas - he wants 

The committee Thursday authorized the use of subpoenas to five Justice 
Department officials in the investigation into the dismissals of eight U.S. 

It postponed a vote on the authorization to use subpoenas to compel White House 
officials to testify, including President Bush's top political adviser, Karl 
Rove, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Most of the federal prosecutors claim they were the political casualties of 
rankling the White House, and some say they were pressured by members of 
Congress to expedite politically charged cases.

Justice Department officials initially told Congress the removals were 
performance-related, which prompted an outcry from the fired lawyers.

The administration later admitted one of the fired prosecutors had been removed 
to make way for a former aide to Rove but said the remainder were fired over 
management concerns and policy disagreements.

"I'm surprised that they're saying that there's no politics involved, and we're 
still 2 1/2; weeks away from April Fool's Day," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-New 
Hampshire, chairman of the Senate panel. "How can they possibly stand there with
a straight face and say that's not politics? Of course it's politics."

Leahy said Wednesday he told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he was 
"furious" with how his department handled the dismissals.

The senator went on to say that he feels Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General 
Paul McNulty were less than forthcoming when they attended earlier hearings on 
the matter.

"I believe that they misled my committee. Whether it was deliberate or not is 
what we're going to have to find out," Leahy said.

Leahy delivered his remarks - and his threat to subpoena members of the Bush 
administration, including Rove - as John Sununu of New Hampshire became the 
first Republican senator to call for Gonzales' head.

Leahy bristled at the idea that Gonzales and White House counsel Fred Fielding 
would decide whether to "allow" members of the administration to testify.

In remarks directed toward Fielding, Leahy said, "Frankly, I don't care whether 
he says he's going to allow people or not. We'll subpoena the people we want. If
they want to defy the subpoena, then you get into a stonewall situation I 
suspect they don't want to have."

The senator recalled a conversation he had with Gonzales in which the attorney 
general said there were low-level Justice Department staffers he didn't want to 

"I said, frankly, Mr. Attorney General, it's not your decision. It's mine and 
the committee's. We will have subpoenas. I would hope that they will not try to 
stonewall subpoenas," Leahy said.

Gonzales conceded Wednesday that he "absolutely" should have been more involved 
in the decision to fire the eight prosecutors.

The attorney general said he charged his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, with 
determining "where we could do better" after Miers, then-White House counsel, 
suggested canning all 93 U.S. attorneys, an idea Gonzales says he opposed.

Sampson came back with the list of names of eight U.S. attorneys whose 
dismissals have sparked the political furor ushering Gonzales' aide out of the 
Justice Department. Sampson stepped down from his post Monday.

    Sununu said Wednesday that Gonzales should follow suit or be replaced.

"The president should fire the attorney general and replace him as soon as 
possible with someone who can provide strong, aggressive leadership," Sununu 
said in a statement.

Sununu said that Gonzales has lost all credibility because of the firings, 
controversy over renewal of the USA Patriot Act and a report last week that the 
FBI had underreported its use of national security letters to snoop on 
Americans. "These failures have created a deep, widespread lack of confidence," 
Sununu said.

Several Democratic senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, 
also have called for Gonzales to resign or be fired.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush was disappointed with Sununu's stance.

Bush said Wednesday he is "not happy" about mistakes surrounding the decision to
fire the eight attorneys, but his faith in his attorney general is unwavering.

"I do have confidence in AG Al Gonzales," Bush said during a joint news 
conference with President Felipe Calderon in Merida, Mexico. "I talked to him 
this morning, and we talked about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it 
very clear to members in both political parties why the Justice Department made 
the decision it made."

He further said the decision to fire the eight was "entirely appropriate" and 
that the mistakes involved how the firings were explained to Congress. Past 
administrations have removed U.S. attorneys, and it's their right to do so, Bush

U.S. attorneys are political appointees who are routinely replaced when a new 
president takes office, but their removal in the middle of a presidential 
administration is rare - and some say unprecedented.

Fielding, the White House counsel, held a meeting Wednesday with leaders of the 
House and Senate judiciary committees to discuss requests for testimony, but 
Leahy has insisted, "We'll subpoena who we want."

    Included is Rove, who the White House say was not involved in the firings.

Though there are no allegations a crime was committed, Leahy, who was a 
prosecutor for eight years, said pressuring a U.S. attorney is inexcusable.

"That's the one person in the criminal justice system that has to be totally 
independent. If you try to manipulate the prosecutor, then you're manipulating 
everybody all the way down to the investigating police officer and it hurts 
everybody," he said.

Leahy added that it sends a message to law enforcement: "You either play by our 
political rules - by our political rules, not by law enforcement rules, but by 
our political rules - or you're out of a job."


CNN's Dana Bash, Ed Henry, Terry Frieden and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to 
this report.

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