Bush's Former Political Director Visits the Hill

Former White House political director Sara Taylor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The committee subpoenaed her to talk about White House involvement in the firings of several federal prosecutors last year. President Bush instructed her not to share secrets, on the basis of executive privilege.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

Former White House political director Sara Taylor was on Capitol Hill today, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said she did not talk to President Bush or meet with him to discuss the firing of federal prosecutors. Those firings have led to an escalating confrontation between the president and Congress over what information and testimony the White House must produce.

NPR's Nina Totenberg has our report.

NINA TOTENBERG: Earlier this week, President Bush invoked executive privilege to prevent Taylor and former White House counsel Harriet Miers from testifying. And today, Taylor in an opening statement, said she would abide by the president's directive not to talk.

Ms. SARA TAYLOR (Former White House Political Director): I intend to the follow the president's instruction.

TOTENBERG: In fact, though, Taylor was all over the map. Here, for example, is an exchange she had with Senator Patrick Leahy shortly after the hearing began.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): Did you attend any meeting with the president since the 2004 election in which the removal and replacement of U.S. attorneys were discussed?

Ms. TAYLOR: Again, I have a letter that has asked me to follow the president's assertion of executive privilege.

Sen. LEAHY: So you're not going to answer my question?

TOTENBERG: And here is an exchange with Leahy two hours later.

Sen. LEAHY: Did you attend a meeting with the president since the 2004 election in which the removal and replacement of U.S. attorneys was discussed?

Ms. TAYLOR: I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed.

TOTENBERG: As the day wore on, there was no discernable rhyme or reason to which questions Taylor answered and which she didn't. She said she could not comment on a particular U.S. attorney hiring and firing decisions, but then she commented extensively about her White House colleague, Tim Griffin, in an effort to justify his selection as U.S. attorney in Arkansas after the previous Bush appointee was fired.

She said she could not recall Republican office holders or party officials complaining to her about U.S. attorneys, but confronted with an e-mail to her that recounted GOP officials in New Mexico complaining about U.S. Attorney David Iglesias because of his failure to indict Democrats before the 2006 election. Taylor acknowledged hearing about unhappiness over the matter.

Democrats told Taylor she was answering questions in a self-serving and selective way, but they focused most of their ire on President Bush in what they call his nonsensical and overbroad gag order.

The only Republican to ask questions at the hearing, Senator Arlen Specter, seemed to acknowledge the stew Taylor created today when he observed that by answering so many questions, she may have waived the privilege she sought to honor.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): You might have been on safer legal ground if you had said absolutely nothing.

TOTENBERG: Taylor, age 32, left the White House six weeks ago after working for Mr. Bush for eight years. She said she'd long plan to leave to pursue other career options. I don't believe, she said, that anybody in the White House did any wrongdoing. That prompted Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse to ask whether she knew of any other administration that had fired 10 percent of its U.S. attorneys midterm.

Ms. TAYLOR: Perhaps they did it in a way that was, you know, much more artful.

TOTENBERG: Senator Whitehouse followed up.

Senator SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (Democrat, Rhode Island): Do you have information that that took place or are you simply asserting a hypothesis or a…

Ms. TAYLOR: It was a hypothesis.

TOTENBERG: This afternoon, the showdown with the White House escalated yet again when former White House counsel Harriet Miers notified the House Judiciary Committee that the president had ordered her not to even appear as scheduled tomorrow.

That prompted House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to inform Miers that failure to appear could subject her to prosecution for contempt of Congress. Said Conyers, no court decision supports the notion that a former White House official has the option of refusing even to appear in response to a subpoena.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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