White House, Congress Spar Over E-Mail Release The White House and the Congress continue to be at odds over the investigation into the firing of eight United States attorneys. Each side launched fresh volleys in the battle ahead of testimony Tuesday before Congress by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.


White House, Congress Spar Over E-Mail Release

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The Democrats who control Congress are demanding more information about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Today is the deadline for the Justice Department to give more information about a corruption probe. Democrats want to know if there was a political prosecution in Wisconsin, and we'll have more on that in a moment.

We begin here in Washington, where the Justice Department may release another thousand pages of documents today. That is not stopping Democrats from approving new subpoenas.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has been covering this story and joins us now. Ari, good morning.

ARI SHAPIRO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess the way that these two sides communicate is by letter. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been sending letters to the White House. He got a response back. What are they arguing about?

SHAPIRO: Well they're arguing about whether and how White House officials are going to testify about their role in the U.S. attorney dismissals. You may remember that Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, made the original offer that White House officials would only testify in private without an oath or transcript. Congress said that was unacceptable. They wrote some letters trying to negotiate.

And yesterday Fielding wrote back and basically said this is our offer and we're sticking to it. And he actually even went a little farther. He said the documents that the White House has agreed to hand over are contingent on Congress agreeing to the terms of the interview. The quote from the letter was that "the documents are part of a carefully and thoughtfully considered package of accommodations." Mr. Fielding also said that White House officials who sent e-mails using accounts through the Republican National Committee, that those e-mails were going to be reviewed by the White House before they're handed over to Congress.

INSKEEP: Is this a game of constitutional chicken - the Democrats say we have the power to make you testify, and the White House says no, you don't, except under terms that we like?

SHAPIRO: That could be where it's headed, but the Democrats were not at all pleased with this letter yesterday. John Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said that the idea that the White House could exercise executive privilege over e-mails that were sent from accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee has no basis in law or fact. His committee plans to go straight to the RNC and get the e-mails from them, whether or not the White House wants to review them first. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat who has been leading the committee - leading the investigation on the Senate side, said the White House's letter could be summed up in three words: we are stonewalling.

INSKEEP: Let's make sure we keep our scandals straight, here. When you mentioned e-mails from the Republican National Committee or on Republican National Committee accounts, those may be important because discussions about the U.S. attorneys may have been had on those accounts, is that right?

SHAPIRO: Discussions about the U.S. attorneys or any number of other things. The White House told members of Congress yesterday that as many as four years worth of e-mails sent through RNC accounts may have been deleted by Karl Rove specifically. They said that they, in 2005, stopped him from being able to go in and delete his RNC e-mails.

One government watchdog group called CREW - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington - yesterday reported that the White House had lost over five million e-mails.

INSKEEP: So can these e-mails be retrieved, these e-mail from Karl Rove, the White House political counselor?

SHAPIRO: Karl Rove and many others. It's not clear whether they can be retrieved. Senator Leahy said he doesn't believe the e-mails are actually lost. He said everything that gets sent to the government servers is stored somewhere, and he called the White House's excuse is like saying the dog ate my homework. White House spokesman Dana Perino responded I understand his point, but he's wrong. I mean, the real question here is whether White House officials were using these RNC accounts to conduct official communication that they didn't want recorded the way that e-mails through White House accounts would be recorded.

INSKEEP: Okay, so we've got documents, we've got e-mails, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is voting for new subpoenas - or voted yesterday for new subpoenas. What do they want?

SHAPIRO: That's right. Well, two of those subpoenas authorized - two of them were authorizations for subpoenas for government officials to testify who were involved in the dismissals. One of the subpoenas were for Justice Department documents. And that mirrored a House Judiciary subpoena that was actually earlier this week, as opposed to the Senate subpoenas that were just authorized but have not yet been issued. And this is all in advance of the attorney general's testimony on Tuesday, which is going to be a big climax in this whole scandal.

INSKEEP: Well, I don't know, you think they'll have a climax that soon? This could go on for a while.

SHAPIRO: Well the attorney general hasn't testified since January, and since then even his supporters say there have been lots of conflicting statements. So everybody's watching to see what he's going to say on Tuesday.

INSKEEP: Ari, thanks.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR justice reporter Ari Shapiro.

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