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Leahy, Conyers seek legal basis for US Attorney firings executive privilege claim

[JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) Friday asked the White House to provide a legal basis [press release] for its assertion of executive privilege [JURIST report] in rejecting congressional subpoenas [JURIST report] in the investigation of the US Attorney firings controversy [JURIST news archive]. In a letter [PDF text] to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Leahy and Conyers wrote:

We had hoped our Committees' subpoenas would be met with compliance and not a Nixonian stonewalling that reveals the White House's disdain for our system of checks and balances.

We urge the President to reconsider this step and withdraw his privilege claim so the American people can learn the truth about these firings. If he is unwilling to withdraw these claims, we call on you to provide more specific information to facilitate ruling on those claims and our consideration of appropriate action to enforce our subpoenas. ...

Your action today in stonewalling the Committees' investigations is also inconsistent with the practices of every Administration since World War II in responding to congressional oversight. In that time, presidential advisers have testified before congressional committees 74 times voluntarily or compelled by subpoenas. During the Clinton Administration, White House and Administration advisors were routinely subpoenaed for documents or to appear before Congress. For example, in 1996 alone, the House Government Reform Committee issued at least 27 subpoenas to White House advisors. The veil of secrecy you have attempted to pull over the White House by withholding documents and witnesses is unprecedented and damaging to the tradition of open government by and for the people that has been a hallmark of the Republic.

Moreover, your blanket assertion of executive privilege belies any good faith attempt to determine where privilege truly does and does not apply. A serious assertion of privilege would include an effort to demonstrate to the Committees which documents, and which parts of those documents, are covered by any privilege that may apply. ...

Please provide the documents compelled by the subpoenas without further delay. If you continue to decline to do so, you should immediately provide us with the specific factual and legal bases for your claims regarding each document withheld via a privilege log as described above and a copy of any explicit determination by the President with respect to the assertion of privilege. You have until July 9, 2007, at 10 a.m. to bring this and any other information you wish to submit to our attention before we move to proceedings to rule on your claims and consider whether the White House is in contempt of Congress.
Leahy and Conyers also accused the Bush administration of disregarding established procedure for asserting executive privilege, in which the executive makes specific written determinations for documents withheld, and faulted the White House for failing to provide logs for documents the administration seeks to withhold.

In addition to the subpoenas for documents on the US Attorney firings, the White House also currently faces subpoenas [JURIST report] from the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] seeking documents related to the warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.

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