Monday, March 19, 2007

Senate may subpoena White House aide Karl Rove

Senate may subpoena White House aide Karl Rove

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House political strategist Karl Rove will face a Senate subpoena this week if he does not agree to testify in a dispute over fired prosecutors that has put pressure on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to quit, a Senate committee head said on Sunday.

But minority Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee stopped short of seeking to compel members of the White House staff to testify under oath. They have called for Gonzales to come to Congress to explain the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and clear up the varying reasons given for their ouster.

The White House is in talks with Congress over whether to allow testimony by officials including Rove -- whose former aide had been selected to replace one of the fired prosecutors. The replacement helped fuel charges the dismissals were politically motivated.

But one way or another, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman, made it clear he wanted the officials to testify at the Senate under oath.

"The final decision on putting on the agenda subpoenas is mine," Leahy said on ABC's "This Week." "And it will be on Thursday this week, among the subpoenas that will be voted on, will be one for Karl Rove and one for (former White House counsel) Harriet Miers, another one for her deputy."

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, one of Bush's strongest Republican supporters in Congress, agreed on the same show that the committee needed to hear Justice Department officials.

But he said he feared Democrats "want to cut to the chase and let's get Karl Rove there and have a political circus."

As far as subpoenas for the White House, Cornyn said he was worried about violating the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the White House.

"This is what I'm talking about when I say a legitimate investigation can be overreached," Cornyn said, saying he did not want the probe to become "a political witch hunt."

Critics say the Bush administration fired the prosecutors to make room for Republican allies. Democrats say the attorneys angered powerful Republicans, partly by pursuing corruption probes against Republican lawmakers, and Gonzales fired them in retaliation.


Gonzales is trying to fend off resignation calls from Democrats and some Republicans. He has previously drawn fire for policies that critics say eroded U.S. civil liberties and contributed to abuse of foreign detainees.

A Newsweek poll on Saturday said 58 percent of the U.S. public believed the prosecutors' firings were driven by political concerns.

Gonzales called all the U.S. attorneys on Friday, a Justice Department official said. "He apologized not for the dismissals, but rather for the handling of the situation including that the suggestion the prosecutors had performed poorly was ultimately discussed publicly," he said.

The White House first said the idea of firing all the federal prosecutors at the beginning of Bush's second term came from Miers.

But e-mails last week brought up the involvement of Rove.