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Senate Committee Denies Executive Privilege

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this month. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The chairman of the Senate judiciary committee ruled Thursday that President Bush has no basis to claim executive privilege in the firing of U.S. attorneys.

The ruling by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is a direct challenge to the claim of executive privilege asserted on behalf of White House Chief of Staff John Bolten and former adviser Karl Rove.

Leahy directed Bolten, Rove, former political director Sara Taylor and her deputy, J. Scott Jennings, to comply "immediately" with subpoenas for documents and information about the White House's role in the attorneys' firings.

"I hereby rule that those claims are not legally valid to excuse current and former White House employees from appearing, testifying and producing documents related to this investigation," Leahy wrote.

The ruling is a formality that clears the way for Leahy's panel to vote on whether to advance the citations to the full Senate.

The executive privilege claim "is surprising in light of the significant and uncontroverted evidence that the president had no involvement in these firings," Leahy wrote in his ruling. "The president's lack of involvement in these firings – by his own account and that of many others – calls into question any claim of executive privilege."

It was the latest salvo in a nearly yearlong controversy spawned by the firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys that ultimately cost former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales his job. Leahy presided over the confirmation hearings of Gonzales' successor, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who took office earlier this month.