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US Senate Panel Holds Bush Aides in Contempt

A U.S. Senate panel has voted to hold White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and President Bush's former top aide, Karl Rove in contempt for refusing to cooperate in its probe of the Bush administration's firing of federal prosecutors. The move steps up a constitutional confrontation between the legislative and executive branches of government, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee was largely along party lines, with only two of the nine Republicans on the panel, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Charles Grassley of Iowa, joining 10 Democrats to vote to send the contempt of Congress citations to the full Senate.

The Bush administration has cited executive privilege in its refusal to allow chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House aide Karl Rove to testify or provide documents to the committee for its investigation into the Justice Department's firing last year of nine federal prosecutors.

Majority Democrats believe partisan politics was behind the dismissals, while the White House argues the firings were performance-related.

The committee chairman, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said it is important for his panel to enforce its subpoenas in an effort to carry out oversight of the executive branch.

"Having been directed to comply with the committee's subpoenas, they have not done so, now we must take the next steps to enforce the committee's subpoenas. It is not a step I wanted to take. In fact I have tried for many months for ways to work with the White House to avoid such confrontation," he said.

Senator Specter, the top Republican on the committee, agreed, although he noted that the issue would likely land in federal courts and not be resolved until after President Bush leaves office in January 2009.

"I vote for the contempt citations knowing that it is highly likely to be a meaningless act because it takes a long period of time to enforce the process and have a judicial determination. But I think in this context we have no alternative but to proceed to do that," he said.

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino called the committee action "a futile effort."

"The Department of Justice would not require a U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury or otherwise pursue a prosecution of an individual who carries out a president's instruction not to provide documents or testimony on the basis of the president's assertion of executive privilege," she said.

The House Judiciary Committee also has approved contempt resolutions against chief of staff Bolten and former White House lawyer Harriet Miers.