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Former White House Aide Follows Directive Not to Testify About Firings of Attorneys

The dismissal of federal prosecutors, and President Bush's commuting of the jail sentence of a former White House aide continue to be in the spotlight at often acrimonious testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday. VOA's Dan Robinson reports.

As expected, former White House political aide Sara Taylor, in her first appearance before lawmakers, cited executive privilege over and over in declining to answer questions about internal or external communications or deliberations on the firing of federal prosecutors.

President Bush is using this authority in resisting congressional subpoenas for focused testimony by Taylor, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, part of lawmaker's efforts to determine if improper political considerations played a role in the attorney dismissals.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, who has accused the president of a cover up, had this exchange with Taylor:

LEAHY: "Since the 2004 election, did you speak with President Bush about

replacing U.S. attorneys?

TAYLOR: Again I am trying to. . .

LEAHY: I know what you are trying to do, but.

TAYLOR: Well I am not, and I appreciate your patience but I am trying to make

a determination on deliberations versus what is a fact-based question. I guess you asked me a fact-based question. I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys."

Although Taylor repeatedly refused to answer lawmaker's questions about White House deliberations, she did say that she would answer questions if a court ruled that Congress's need for the information outweighed the president's assertion of executive privilege.

Ranking panel Republican, Senator Arlen Specter, said he understood her decision to comply with the White House executive privilege restriction.

However, by the end of the hearing Specter again referred to the very real prospect that the committee may decided to proceed with a contempt of Congress citation for the former White House aide. "You are between a rock and hard place. There is no way you can come out a winner, and I don't think any U.S. attorney anywhere as the appointee of the president is going to bring a criminal contempt citation, but if this committee asks for one, it will be a big cloud over you, a big smear, that will last the rest of your life," he said.

Specter renewed an appeal to President Bush to work with the committee to resolve the impasse over executive privilege.

As the Senate hearing was concluding, President Bush ordered his former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who was due to appear before a House of Representatives committee Thursday also on the attorneys matter, not to do so.

In a separate hearing Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about President Bush's commutation of the sentence of Lewis Libby who was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with the case involving the revelation of the identity of a CIA agent.

"The idea that no man or woman is above the law is firmly embedded in our nation's founding document and underlies the entirety of the criminal justice system. When clemency is granted outside the normal pardon system, and particularly when it is issued to members of the president's own administration, that fundamental concept is called into question," said Congressman John Conyers.

Among witnesses at the hearing was former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a fierce critic of the Bush administration on Iraq, and whose wife Valerie was the CIA agent whose identity was revealed. "Make no mistake, the president's actions last week cast a pall of suspicion over his office, and Vice President Cheney," he said.

Republicans on the panel accused Democrats of trying use the issue for political gain, and attempting to lay the groundwork for further attacks on Libby's former boss, Vice President Cheney. "The Constitution does give the president the authority to grant clemency. Congress cannot restrict this power, and yet here we are spending time and resources that would be better used focusing on the real needs of the American people," said Congressman Lamar Smith is the panel's ranking Republican.

When he commuted Libby's sentence, President Bush said he felt the punishment by the court was too harsh.

The White House has rejected Congressman Conyers request that it provide documents relating to the matter.