Senate Panel Authorizes Subpoenas for Rove, Others

Posted March 22, 2007 at 11:57am

After a heated partisan exchange, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning voted to authorize the issuance of subpoenas to White House aide Karl Rove, former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and current deputy counsel William Kelley if they do not come forward to voluntarily testify in the scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys.

By voice vote, the committee gave Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) the power to authorize subpoenas for the White House aides. It appeared that most Democrats voted for the subpoenas, while most committee Republicans argued they were premature and rejected them.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), however, voted to authorize the subpoenas. Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who has been critical of the firings, refused after the hearing to clarify how he voted.

The House Judiciary Committee authorized similar subpoenas on Wednesday. But behind the scenes, negotiations appear to continue to find some kind of compromise that would avoid the actual issuance of subpoenas and a likely court battle.

During the hearing, Specter proposed further negotiation with the White House. He suggested an alternative plan in which the aides would testify in open session with a transcript but without having to take an oath. Yet the aides, Specter pointed out, would still be subject to perjury penalties.

Earlier this week, White House counsel Fred Fielding proposed that Rove, Miers and their deputies be made available in private session, without transcripts or oaths. President Bush later appeared on television to suggest that this was the administration’s final offer and that he would go to court to prevent any subpoenas issued by Congress from being enforced.

Leahy interpreted the president’s words as a final offer.

“They’ve already rejected that,” he said of Specter’s plan. “Why waste our time bidding against ourselves?”

“I know [the president] is the decider for the White House. He’s not the decider for the U.S. Senate,” Leahy declared.

Judiciary Committee Republicans generally called authorizing the subpoenas premature.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who along with a group of GOP Senators met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Wednesday, said that the long-term consequences of such subpoenas should be considered.

He argued the legislative branch cannot make the executive branch “subservient” to its wishes.

“We may not be on firm ground to issue a subpoena,” added Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). “Curiosity is not enough to override executive privilege.”

Leahy and Specter also released a letter to former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson requesting his testimony in a hearing next Thursday before the Judiciary Committee. Sampson has retained attorney Brad Berenson to represent him.