Maybe the US can learn from the Philippines. When officials are subpoenaed to give testimony that may be problematic they sometimes disappear from view, often to the US where many have property or contacts. Perhaps the aides could take a paid vacation in the Philippines.
House Panel Approves Subpoenas for White House Aides (Update4)
By James Rowley
March 21 (Bloomberg) -- A congressional panel probing the firing of eight U.S. attorneys authorized subpoenas to compel testimony by Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser, and other White House officials.
The House subcommittee took the first step toward a possible constitutional confrontation with Bush over the power of Congress to question presidential aides under oath and review confidential administration documents. It approved the subpoena authority by voice vote over Republican objections.
The White House countered with a threat to withdraw its offer to produce Rove and other White House aides for private interviews if Congress takes the further step of actually issuing subpoenas.
``If they issue subpoenas, the offer's withdrawn,'' White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters. ``Are we going to change our conditions? No.''
The controversy over the fired U.S. attorneys highlights the political difficulty Bush finds himself in after Democrats last November won control of Congress and with it the power to subpoena witnesses. Bush is resisting calls by Democrats and some Republicans for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his handling of the prosecutor firings.
The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have demanded answers as Democrats question whether the dismissals were used to suppress prosecutions.
`Merely a Backup'
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, said subpoena authority is ``merely a backup'' while Congress negotiates with the administration. ``We are not going to move in a reckless or angry or temperamental way at all,'' he said.
Bush yesterday called the Democratic demands for sworn testimony from his advisers ``a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants.''
Snow said the White House wanted Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to be questioned in private because ``what we want to avoid is the trappings of a media spectacle.'' He said, ``behavior changes when cameras are off.''
``You don't need a showdown here,'' Snow said. Rove and other potential witnesses don't need to be under oath because it's against the law to lie to Congress, whether under oath or not, Snow said. He said it's ``probably worth giving members of Congress a little bit of time to think this through.''
Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat leading the Senate Judiciary Committee's inquiry, signaled that lawmakers may accept a deal with Bush that would allow closed-door testimony as long as it's transcribed and under oath.
`No Good Arguments'
``We, hopefully, can work out a compromise,'' Schumer said in an interview. ``I can understand why he wouldn't want it in public even though there are good arguments why it should be in public. There are no good arguments not to have an oath and a transcript.''
The House subcommittee authorized subpoenas for Rove, deputy White House political director deputy J. Scott Jennings, Miers and William Kelley, her former deputy. Subpoenas were also authorized for documents about the firings produced by White House officials, including the president's chief of staff, Joshua Bolten.
During the House subcommittee's debate, Republican Representative Chris Cannon of Utah said subpoenas would be premature because Bush ``has fairly offered interviews and documents. The only purpose of issuing subpoenas is to fan the flames and photo ops for partisan gain.''
Subpoenas aren't warranted because there is no evidence the firings impeded any criminal probes, Cannon said. He cited the testimony of dismissed U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego, who left after putting a former Republican congressman behind bars. Lam told Congress her removal wouldn't disrupt any criminal investigations.
`Merely a Backup'
The administration's offer for a private meeting on the firings, delivered by White House Counsel Fred Fielding, amounts to a proposed ``conversation,'' Conyers said. ``We could meet at the local pub to have that kind of gathering.''
The House panel today also authorized a subpoena to compel testimony of D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's chief of staff who resigned March 12. Gonzales blamed Sampson for not informing him and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty about the dismissals that Sampson had coordinated with the White House.
Today, Snow declined to voice support for McNulty, whose Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about the firings was criticized as incomplete and misleading by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, the panel's chairman.
``I'm not in the business of assessing the deputy attorney general,'' Snow said when asked about McNulty's performance.
Bush yesterday accused Democrats of being ``more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts.''
He conceded the Justice Department's initial explanations of the dismissals were ``confusing and in some cases incomplete.''
But permitting his aides to be questioned in public under oath would inhibit their candid advice, Bush said. The staff would be in ``constant fear of being hauled before various committees to discuss internal deliberations.''
The battle may be headed for court, said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history and politics at American University in Washington.
Courts in the past have ruled that ``a president does not have absolute privilege to say, `The White House has immunity because I need candid advice,''' Lichtman said.
Still, in ordering the release of President Richard M. Nixon's White House tapes in the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Supreme Court did recognize executive privilege. It ruled that it was overcome by the demands of a criminal investigation.
Columbia University law Professor Michael Dorf, in an interview today, said such confrontations are usually resolved by compromise instead of in court. ``There are so few occasions in which courts have looked at this sort of thing,'' he said.
During President Bill Clinton's administration, aides frequently submitted to congressional demands to testify, avoiding a court showdown.
A 2004 Congressional Research Service report listed 47 such instances in which Clinton administration aides testified before Congress.
In the current confrontation, Democratic leaders may face an uphill battle in forcing testimony by administration officials. Bush might leave office in January 2009 before it is resolved.
The firings have prompted at least three Republican lawmakers to join calls by some Democrats for Gonzales to step down. Republicans who haven't urged Bush to replace his attorney general, such as Senator John Cornyn of Texas, have complained that the dismissals were mishandled.
To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: March 21, 2007 15:32 EDT