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Leahy Expects Subpoena Power in Attorney Case

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy holds a chart related to the firings of U.S attorneys during a Tuesday news conference.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy holds a chart related to the firings of U.S attorneys during a Tuesday news conference.

As a political debate over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys rages, the White House offers to let Congress interview White House aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers — but not under oath. Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, rejected the offer and will seek the authority to issue subpoenas. He discusses developments with Renee Montagne:

On what grounds are you rejecting the president's offer to question White House aides Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel?

If it's going to be full and complete testimony I would have accepted it, but they put all kinds of conditions. They want to meet in private, they'll want to meet only with a very few members of Congress, they don't want it under oath. That's unacceptable. One of the reasons we're in the problem is that we've all been given these closed briefings where we have had a few members there, where they come up and say, "Here, we've given you the complete story," and then three days later we pick up the paper and find out all the things they left out of the story.

I want them under oath. I want them before the whole committee. Both Republicans and Democrats can ask them questions, but I want the public to know what they're saying and I want their testimony under oath.

What do you want to ask them?

I want to find out how much politics played a part in these firings of these U.S. attorneys, and to what extent they may have been affecting ongoing investigations. You know, when you remove the independence of a prosecutor, it affects everybody in law enforcement, all the way down to the investigator on the street. The prosecutors have to be seen as not open to political pressure. They have to be seen as doing their job without fear or favor. And what they've done now is sent a chill over the whole federal prosecutor system, where everybody investigating a case is going to be asking, "Well, does this fit the political mold we want?" In a couple of instances they were firing very well-thought-of prosecutors to replace them, in one case, with a crony of Karl Rove. In another case, somebody who had prosecuted, investigated a Republican congressman, sent him to prison, was known to be investigating other political figures, is suddenly yanked out of her job. It just sends all the wrong signals.

I'm hoping that we can establish that the prosecutors have to be independent. Of course they serve at the pleasure of the president, but they have to be independent in their prosecution. Otherwise, the next president, whoever he or she might be, might be tempted to do the same thing.

Senator, is your committee prepared to subpoena Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, even though the president says he'll fight any such effort in court?

Well, the president can fight the effort. We will vote tomorrow in our committee on whether ... to give me the authority to issue subpoenas against Karl Rove, Ms. Miers and her deputy, and I can assure you the committee will vote to authorize these subpoenas.

Now, I'm perfectly happy to have them come up voluntarily, but I want them under oath. I don't want some private meeting where they will tell you a little bit of what's going on and then claim that, "We've been truthful and open." That just doesn't work. It hasn't worked in the past. We haven't got all the information when they've done that, and we oftentimes haven't had truthful information.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been at the center of this controversy. Should he resign?

That's up to the president. If the president thinks that Mr. Gonzales sets the high standards that the president feels his administration should be remembered for, then he will stay on. If he feels that he's not setting the standards his administration should be remembered for, well, then, he'll be gone.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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