A U.S. Senate committee has followed the lead of its counterpart in the House of Representatives and authorized subpoenas to compel White House aides to testify in public and under oath about the dismissals of federal prosecutors. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee agreed by voice vote to authorize subpoenas for President Bush's adviser Karl Rove, former White House lawyer Harriet Miers, and two deputy White House officials to compel sworn and public testimony about the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is chairman of the committee.
LEAHY: "All those in favor say "aye".
LEAHY: "I would say the "ayes" have it, the "ayes" do have it. The subpoenas are authorized."
One Republican, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, asked that the committee record show that he voted with the majority to authorize the subpoenas.
Like the House Judiciary Committee action a day earlier, the Senate panel did not actually issue the subpoenas, to allow for the possibility that a deal could be reached with the White House to head off a constitutional confrontation.
But there is no indication the White House is ready to compromise, with President Bush stating that his aides would be made available only for private interviews with a limited number of lawmakers and not under oath.
Chairman Leahy rejected the president's offer, despite pleas from the top Republican on the committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, to try to seek a compromise with the White House before considering subpoenas.
In an exchange with Leahy, Specter argued that moving toward confrontation with the White House would only tie up the matter in courts for years.
SPECTER: "Question number one is, will this investigation be best served by finding out what we can now as opposed to litigation which will take more than two years, and question number two, related to question number one: if we do not like what we get, we can always issue a subpoena and move with the subpoena if we do not like what we get? Why not take what we can get?"
LEAHY: "No. We are told what we can get is nothing, nothing, nothing! We are told we can have a closed-door meeting with no transcript, not under oath, a limited number of people, and the White House will determine what the agenda is. That to me is nothing."
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, argued that the White House cannot dictate how Congress operates.
"The two branches of government are equal," she said. "If we do not use the power that we are given to get at facts that are important, we do not deserve to hold these positions. I do not believe we can get at those facts in a closed room, without a record, simply interviewing a selected number of witnesses."
But Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, said it is the Congress that is seeking to meddle in the affairs of the White House.
"We are dealing with an equal branch of government, and we are intruding into deliberations among the top advisers to that head of that branch of government," he said.
Kyl echoed President Bush's opposition to compelling White House officials to testify in public and under oath, saying it would have a "chilling effect" on the ability of future presidents to get candid advice from aides who may fear they will be forced to publicly testify about their private conversations.
Democratic critics say the attorney firings were politically motivated, and have called for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation over his handling of the matter.
President Bush has voiced his support for Gonzales.
Gonzales reiterated that no attorney was dismissed for improper reasons, and said he remains committed to working with lawmakers in their investigation of the issue.