Bush won't supply subpoenaed documents
Bush won't supply subpoenaed documents
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent 29
WASHINGTON - President Bush, moving toward a
constitutional showdown with Congress, asserted
executive privilege Thursday and rejected lawmakers'
demands for documents that could shed light on the
firings of federal prosecutors.
Bush's attorney told Congress the White House would
not turn over subpoenaed documents for former
presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former
political director Sara Taylor. Congressional panels
want the documents for their investigations of
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' stewardship of the
The Democratic chairmen of the two committees seeking
the documents accused Bush of stonewalling and disdain
for the law, and said they would press forward with
enforcing the subpoenas.
"With respect, it is with much regret that we are
forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to
avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation,"
White House counsel Fred Fielding said in a letter to
the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary
Committees. "We had hoped this matter could conclude
with your committees receiving information in lieu of
having to invoke executive privilege. Instead, we are
at this conclusion."
Thursday was the deadline for surrendering the
documents. The White House also made clear that Miers
and Taylor would not testify next month, as directed
by the subpoenas, which were issued June 13. The
stalemate could end up with House and Senate contempt
citations and a battle in federal court over
separation of powers.
"Increasingly, the president and vice president feel
they are above the law," said Senate Judiciary
Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He portrayed the
president's actions as "Nixonian stonewalling."
His House counterpart, Judiciary Chairman John
Conyers, D-Mich., said Bush's assertion of executive
privilege was "unprecedented in its breadth and scope"
and displayed "an appalling disregard for the right of
the people to know what is going on in their
In his letter, Fielding said Bush had "attempted to
chart a course of cooperation" by releasing more than
8,500 pages of documents and sending Gonzales and
other senior officials to testify before Congress. The
White House also had offered a compromise in which
Miers, Taylor, White House political strategist Karl
Rove and their deputies would be interviewed by
Judiciary Committee aides in closed-door sessions,
Leahy and Conyers rejected that offer. Republican Sen.
Orrin Hatch of Utah, a member of the Judiciary
Committee, said the Democrats should have accepted it.
"We would be much farther ahead in finding out whether
there's any real impropriety here or not," said Hatch,
a former chairman of the committee. He also said
presidents have legitimate reasons to protect the
confidentiality of the advice they get.
In his letter, Fielding explained Bush's position on
executive privilege this way: "For the President to
perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative
that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that
free and open discussions and deliberations occur
among his advisors and between those advisors and
others within and outside the Executive Branch."
This "bedrock presidential prerogative" exists, in
part, to protect the president from being compelled to
disclose such communications to Congress, Fielding
argued. And he questioned whether the documents and
testimony the committees seeking are critically
important to their investigations.
It was the second time in his administration that Bush
has exerted executive privilege, said White House
deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. The first instance
was in December, 2001, to rebuff Congress' demands for
Clinton administration documents.
Tensions between the administration and the
Democratic-run Congress have been building for months
as the House and Senate Judiciary panels have sought
to probe the firings of eight federal prosecutors and
the administration's program of warrantless
eavesdropping. The investigations are part of the
Democrats' efforts to hold the administration to
account for the way it has conducted the war on
terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Democrats say the firings of the prosecutors over the
winter was an example of improper political influence.
The White House says U.S. attorneys are political
appointees who can be hired and fired for almost any
Democrats and even some key Republicans have said that
Gonzales should resign over the U.S. attorney
dismissals, but he has steadfastly held his ground and
Bush has backed him.
Just Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee
subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick
Cheney's office, demanding documents pertaining to
terrorism-era warrant-free eavesdropping.
Separately, that panel also is summoning Gonzales to
discuss the program and an array of other matters
including the prosecutor firings that have cost a
half-dozen top Justice Department officials their
The Judiciary panels also subpoenaed the National
Security Council. Leahy added that, like Conyers, he
would consider pursuing contempt citations against
those who refuse.
Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann contributed to