The New York Times
By: Neil A. Lewis and Eric Lipton
Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting from New York
April 26, 2007
In a vivid display of their new power, Democrats across Capitol Hill on Wednesday approved a flurry of subpoenas to fuel a series of investigations of the Bush administration.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issues three subpoenas in quick order. One was to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to answer questions about the administration’s prewar claims about Iraq’s weapons programs and two were to the Republican National Committee and its chairman to be questioned about whether the party’s e-mail system was used by Bush officials to conceal some of their actions.
The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized but did not issue a subpoena for Sara Taylor, the deputy to Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political adviser. The committee wants to question Ms. Taylor about the White House role in the dismissal of eight United States attorneys.
And, in what could be a significant development in the investigation of the dismissals, the House Judiciary Committee moved toward granting a form of immunity from prosecution to Monica Goodling, a senior aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales until her recent resignation. Ms. Goodling, who was deeply involved in the dismissals, has invoker her Fifth Amendment rights to decline to give testimony that might be self-incriminating.
But a grant of immunity could allow the committee to force Ms. Goodling to answer questions about just how involved the White House, and particularly its political office, was in choosing which prosecutors should be dismissed and whether the decisions were based primarily on a desire to help Republican causes or on performance shortcomings of the prosecutors, as Justice Department officials have said.
As the House Oversight Committee voted along party lines to approve the subpoenas, the atmosphere in the room was rich with themes of retribution and settling scores.
Republicans said the Democrats were using their new majority to support “fishing expeditions” and “witch hunts” solely to embarrass President Bush.
Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, the committee’s ranking Republican, said the subpoenas were “an effort to get high-profile administration figures under oath, before the cameras, for the sake of political theatrics.”
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the recently installed committee chairman, savored his new status as he turned aside Republic efforts to quash the subpoenas or limit them. Reflecting on the years when Republicans controlled the oversight committee during Bill Clinton’s presidency, Mr. Waxman said more than 1,000 subpoenas were issued to the executive branch.
“When President Bush took office, I saw the other extreme,” he said.
The Republicans who controlled the committee issued only four subpoenas in six years to executive agencies, Mr. Waxman, said, none directly to the Bush White House.
The ability to investigate is part of Congress’s authority to conduct oversight of the executive branch, separate from its better-known function of enacting legislation.
In joining the battle Wednesday, Mr. Waxman received committee approval to subpoena both the Republican National Committee and its chairman, Robert M. Duncan.
The subpoenas are intended to explore the R.N.C. e-mail accounts used by at least 37 White House employees and find out if agencies other than the General Services Administration received improper political briefings from the White House. On Jan. 26, a senior aide to Mr. Rove briefed G.S.A. employees about which Democratic members of Congress the Republican Party hoped to unseat in 2008.
Blair Jones, a White House spokesman, said Wednesday night that White House officials provided 20 briefings about Republican electoral prospects for senior officials in various agencies in 2006 and 2007. He said the briefings, first reported by The Washington Post in its Thursday editions, were given by members of the political affairs staff including Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings.
“It’s entirely appropriate for the president’s staff to provide briefings to appointed officials throughout the government about the political landscape in which they implement the president’s policies and priorities,” Mr. Jones said. Republicans tried to amend the motion seeking the subpoena to include records from the Democratic National Committee. In arguing that case, Mr. Davis suggested that the sauce appropriate for a goose could also be used with a gander.
He also objected to seeking testimony from Ms. Rice, saying that in previous Congressional appearances she had answered all possible questions about prewar intelligence.
Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary, responded more caustically. He said Ms. Rice could not testify about her advice to the president while she was his national security adviser.
“Beyond that, there may be no more singularly analyzed and exhaustively studied and testified issue than the one Chairman Waxman wants to dredge up again,” Mr. Fratto said.
When Ms. Rice arrived in Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday for a meeting with NATO ministers, she declined to comment on the subpoena.
Ms. Goodling’s testimony about the dismissal of the United States attorneys could be revealing because of her regular interaction with the White House, which has rebuffed requests by Congressional investigators to turn over documents or make available White House officials for sworn interviews.
Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee, said of Ms. Goodling on Wednesday before the committee’s action, “She was apparently involved in crucial discussions over a two-year period with senior White House aides and with other senior Justice officials in which the termination list was developed, refined and finalized.”
Committee officials said it would be at least a month before Ms. Goodling testified, because the Justice Department would have a chance to respond to the request.
In San Diego and Arizona, corruption investigations created peril for Republicans, and in Seattle and New Mexico, some Republican leaders argued that local prosecutors were not taking action on voter fraud.
Suspicion intensified this week that politics might have played a role in the ouster of the former United States attorney in Phoenix, Paul K. Charlton. News reports have said that the Justice Department may have held up an investigation of Representative Rick Renzi, Republican of Arizona, who is facing accusations that he used his influence as a congressman to engineer a land swap benefiting a business associate.
Lawyers close to the case, confirming an article that appeared Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, said the department had been slow to approve search warrants or other crucial steps in the investigation, which had started in 2005.
“I don’t have sufficient knowledge to venture a judgment on the question of whether it is related to politics,” said Fred Petti, an Arizona lawyer and former federal prosecutor involved in the case. “But I have been surprised at how slowly the matter has progress.”
In response to the reports, Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, denied any impropriety. “The Department of Justice under Attorney General Gonzales has never interfered with or attempted to influence a criminal prosecutor, including a public corruption case, for partisan political reasons,” Mr. Roehrkasse said.