Congressional Democrats are stepping up pressure on the White House as they investigate charges the Bush administration has been using the Justice Department as a political tool. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports they have issued a subpoena for a top presidential aide, and are calling for an independent investigation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Perhaps no one at the White House is closer to President Bush than his long-time political adviser Karl Rove.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for Rove and another White House aide, Scott Jennings.
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont made the announcement on the Senate floor:
"There is a cloud over this White House and a gathering storm," he said.
The subpoenas stem from an investigation into whether nine federal prosecutors were fired by the Justice Department for purely political reasons.
Leahy said the prosecutors resisted attempts to influence political corruption cases to benefit Republican candidates. He rejected White House arguments that they were sacked simply because their legal performance was not good enough.
"The evidence shows that senior officials were apparently focused on the political impact of federal prosecutions and whether federal prosecutors were doing enough to bring partisan voter fraud and corruption cases," he added.
President Bush has already refused to permit testimony on the matter from other former and present White House officials. Mr. Bush has told Congress that he has the right to withhold public testimony by those who offer him private advice.
The president has also stressed that he stands behind Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But the chorus of complaints about Gonzales is growing louder by the day. Shortly before the latest subpoenas were issued, four Democrats on the Justice Committee called for an independent investigation into allegations that Gonzales knowingly and willingly lied under oath in congressional testimony.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York said the attorney general has engaged in a pattern of lies.
"The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth," he said.
The formal request for a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of perjury came in a letter to the U.S. government's top lawyer, Solicitor General Paul Clement.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, Senator Schumer was asked if any Republicans support the request. He replied that he had talked to Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Justice Committee, and a critic of the attorney general but he gave no details of the conversation.
A short time later, Specter said an independent investigation is not warranted and he questioned Schumer's intentions.
"Senator Schumer is not interested in looking at the record," said Mr. Specter. "He is interested in throwing down the gauntlet and making stories in tomorrow's newspapers."
Specter said he still hopes a compromise can be worked out with the White House so that Congress can find out if indeed the administration has sought to politicize the Justice Department.
In addition to hiring and firing practices, lawmakers are also looking into a controversial domestic surveillance program and whether the White House took action to mislead Congress and to silence opposition within the Justice Department.