LAT : Democrats call for special prosecutor, subpoena Rove in U.S. attorney matter

Friday, July 27, 2007

Democrats call for special prosecutor, subpoena Rove in U.S. attorney matter

Escalation move designed to investigate possible perjury charges against Atty. Gen. Gonzales.

By Richard B. Schmitt, Times Staff Writer | July 26, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats today called for a special prosecutor to investigate perjury charges against Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and subpoenaed White House political strategist Karl Rove and a top aide to testify about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The request for the special prosecutor was made in a letter sent by four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to Solicitor Gen. Paul Clement. The move followed a confrontational appearance Tuesday by Gonzales at which committee members repeatedly accused him of misleading Congress.

Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), acting with the authorization of his committee, signed the letter ordering Rove, along with J. Scott Jennings, the deputy White House political affairs director, to appear before the Judiciary Committee a week from today.

The subpoenas of Rove and Jennings followed a vote by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate in the U.S. attorney investigation.

Bolten and Miers cited the doctrine of executive privilege in refusing to provide documents and testimony. Rove and Jennings were expected to invoke the same defense, which could lead the Senate panel to hold them in contempt.

Observers could not immediately recall a case in which both chambers of Congress had held administration figures in contempt simultaneously.

The moves further escalated the battle between Congress and the White House over Gonzales and his tenure at the Justice Department, including his decision last year to approve the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The letter to Clement — who is serving as acting attorney general in matters in which Gonzales is recused — cites three instances in which Gonzales allegedly misled Congress.

They include statements made in testimony Tuesday about whether there was disagreement within the Justice Department over a warrant-less surveillance program that the Bush administration ordered after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The attorney general is meant to be the chief law enforcement officer of the land. He must be a person of truth and candor and integrity," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters. "The record, which grows day by day, is making it clear that the attorney general is not such a person."

"Obfuscation, prevarication and untruths from the leader of this huge and critical department have reached, in my view, a point of no return," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Democrats allege that top prosecutors were fired last year because they were not pursuing voting fraud and public corruption cases that would benefit the Republican Party.

Investigators have questioned senior Justice officials and reviewed thousands of internal department documents, but the probe has hit a wall at the White House. The White House has said that internal deliberations about the firings are privileged and that their disclosure would hurt the ability of the president to receive candid advice from aides.

"It is obvious that the reasons given for the firings of these prosecutors were contrived as part of a cover-up and that the stonewalling by the White House is part and parcel of that same effort," Leahy said, explaining the decision to issue the subpoenas.

The White House decried the twin moves.

"Every day this Congress gets a little more out of control — a new call for a special prosecutor, a new investigation launched, a new subpoena issued, an unprecedented contempt vote and an old score somehow settled — all the while appropriations bills go unpassed and FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] modernization, energy and other important issues go unaddressed," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in a statement.

He added: "It's unfortunate that this Congress continues to neglect the issues important to Americans, and Americans are taking note. Chairman Leahy could have accepted our offer of accommodation, but it's clear that he's more interested in headlines."