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Constitutional Showdown Emerging in Attorneys Scandal


President Bush is urging majority Democrats in Congress to accept his offer to allow congressional investigators to interview key aides in private but not under oath about the White House decision to fire eight federal prosecutors. But Democrats are insisting testimony be sworn and in public, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

President Bush is warning Democrats against seeking a constitutional showdown on the issue of the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys.

"Initial response by Democrats unfortunately show they are more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts," said President Bush. "It would be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show-trials, when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available."

Bush said if the staff of a president operated in constant fear of being hauled before various committees to discuss internal deliberations, the president would not receive candid advice, and the American people would be ill served.

White House lawyer Fred Fielding, in a letter to members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees probing the matter, said he would make available the president's top political advisor, Karl Rove, and former White House lawyer Harriet Miers, for questioning in private and not under oath.

But the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, rejected the offer, saying testimony should be sworn and on the record. In a written statement, he said that is the formula for true accountability.

His comments were echoed by Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat:

"It seems as if the president wants to appear to be cooperative but not really cooperate," said Charles Schumer.

Democrats are looking into whether the firing of the U.S. attorneys was politically motivated.

Mr. Bush told reporters nothing improper was done in dismissing them. But the attorneys who lost their jobs argue that political considerations were behind their ouster.

The controversy has prompted calls from Democrats, and even a few Republicans, for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign.

The president reiterated his support for Gonzales.

Earlier, the Senate voted 92 to two to end the Attorney General's ability to appoint U.S. Attorneys without Senate confirmation - a power that was granted to the executive branch in a provision included in the Patriot Act. The measure still needs approval by the House of Representatives.

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