Leahy rejects White House executive privilege claim in US Attorney firings probe

Leahy rejects White House executive privilege claim in US Attorney firings probe

[JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on Thursday rejected White House assertions of executive privilege in the ongoing congressional investigations into the US Attorneys firing scandal [JURIST news archive]. Leahy issued a ruling [text and press release] in which he directed the White House to comply with formal committee subpoenas [JURIST report] for documents and the testimony of White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, former White House political director Sara M. Taylor, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and White House deputy political director J. Scott Jennings. The subpoenas were issued over the summer in connection with the committee's investigation into the "politization of the White House, particularly in the hirings and firings of US Attorneys." In response, the Bush Administration has asserted claims of executive privilege [JURIST report] and immunity from the subpoenas. Leahy's ruling said:

That [White House counsel Fred] Fielding asserts executive privilege on behalf of the President is surprising in light of the significant and uncontroverted evidence that the President had no involvement in these firings. To date, the President has not taken responsibility for the firings and his own statements regarding the firings refer to others making the decisions. The Attorney General's former chief of staff, the former political director at the White House and the Attorney General himself have testified under oath that they did not talk to the President about these firings. Courts analyzing executive privilege claims have made clear that the purpose of the privilege is to protect the President's ability to receive candid advice. The President's lack of involvement in these firings – by his own account and that of many others – calls into question any claim of executive privilege.

Leahy also dismissed the Administration's claim of immunity from the subpoenas as unsupported by any judicial precedent.

It is unclear how the Bush Administration will respond to Leahy's ruling. The ruling allows the committee to vote on contempt citations if the Administration continues to stonewall the subpoena. Taylor and Jennings have testified before the Senate committee, but repeatedly refused to answer questions [JURIST report], citing executive privilege. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers face possible contempt charges [JURIST report] for refusing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee or produce documents relating to the US Attorney firings. The House panel voted [JURIST report] in July to issue contempt of Congress citations [backgrounder; 2 USC Sec. 192] against Bolten and Miers and the full House will soon decide whether to sanction the two for their refusal to comply with the subpoenas.

The House and Senate investigations, according to Leahy's ruling, have accumulated substantial evidence from the Department of Justice showing that "the list for firings was compiled based on input from the highest political ranks in the White House, including Karl Rove. 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. It is now apparent that the reasons given for these firings were contrived as part of a cover up." AP has more.