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Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, listens to comments at a hearing on Capitol Hill, March 21. Conyers says he plans to speak to the White House again Wednesday about having top aides testify before his committee on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. A House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday voted along party lines to allow subpoenas of the White House aides.
A House subcommittee voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas for top White House aides, including political adviser Karl Rove, to help explain the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The vote sets up a possible showdown with President Bush, who has vowed to fight what he called "a partisan fishing expedition."
The president has offered to make his aides available for private, off-the-record interviews. But Democratic lawmakers want Rove and others to testify in public, and under oath.
"There must be accountability," said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), who chairs the House Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has taken a similar stance.
"One of the reasons we're in the problem is that we've all been given these closed briefings, where we have had a few members there, where they come up and say, 'Here, we've given you the complete story,'" Leahy told NPR. "And then three days later, we pick up the paper and find out all the things they left out of the story."
"I want them under oath. I want them before the whole committee," he said.
Throughout the Bush administration, the president and his advisers have jealously guarded their executive privilege, arguing that staffers wouldn't feel free to give candid advice if they had to worry about it being made public. The White House is under growing pressure, however, to explain what role it played in the decision to fire the eight federal prosecutors.
In addition to Rove, lawmakers want to question former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy, as well as Kyle Sampson, who resigned last week as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
On Monday, the Justice Department released some 3,000 pages of documents, including e-mails between Sampson and Miers. Democrats are concerned that the close ties between the White House and the Justice Department suggest a political basis for the firings, which could taint the actions of all federal prosecutors.
"It is so important that six months from now, when a U.S. attorney indicts, particularly a public official, and that public official's lawyer says, 'It's politics,' that the public says, 'No, it isn't. We trust our U.S. attorneys. We trust the Justice Department.' And that trust has been shaken," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.
Some lawmakers are still hoping for a compromise that would allow Congress and the White House to avoid a legal confrontation. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who chairs the full House Judiciary Committee, said after the subcommittee vote Wednesday morning that he planned to talk to the White House again later in the day.