August 10, 2008

(BuZh) Foot-Dragging to the Finish: Dan Froomkin

Special to
Friday, August 8, 2008; 11:57 AM

President Bush often talks about how he intends to " sprint to the finish." Meanwhile, his legal team is engaged in an entirely different race against time.

A federal judge last week sternly rebuked the White House for asserting that its aides are immune from congressional oversight, ordered a former and current staffer to comply with outstanding congressional subpoenas, and strongly encouraged the White House and Congress to reach some sort of compromise.

But Bush White House officials apparently aren't interested in anything other than running out the clock. Can they postpone potentially incriminating testimony until after the November election? Can they make it all the way to Jan. 20?

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers yesterday asked a federal judge to delay an order to cooperate with Congress while they appeal the ruling.

"The court filings indicate that Bolten and Miers will continue to resist subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee as the Bush administration heads into its final months. . . .

"Lawmakers are seeking testimony from Miers and documents from Bolten related to the firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. After [U.S. District Judge John D.] Bates's ruling, Democrats announced they would schedule hearings on the issue in September -- less than two months before the presidential elections."

Jesse J. Holland writes for the Associated Press: "Bates did not immediately rule on their request. . . . The judge asked House lawyers to respond by next week. . . .

"Whatever the proper resolution of the extraordinarily important questions presented, the public interest clearly favors further consideration of issues before defendants are required to take actions that may forever alter the constitutional balance of separation of powers," the Bolten and Miers request said."

After last week's ruling, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy reasserted his demand for testimony from Bolten and former chief White House political guru Karl Rove, in connection with Senate subpoenas issued in June and July of last year. He also asked White House Counsel Fred Fielding to publicly retract his finding of absolute immunity for top aides.

In a letter to Leahy yesterday, Fielding struck a defiant tone. "[W]e believe that entertaining any requests for Mr. Bolten's compliance with the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena should await a final resolution by the courts. In regard to my August 1, 2007 letter to Mr. Rove, please be advised that, consistent with the above, the view stated therein remains the position of the Administration on the question of immunity for close Presidential advisors."

Leahy responded with this statement: "For more than a year, Karl Rove and the President's chief of staff have hidden behind baseless and unprecedented claims of 'absolute immunity' not to appear in compliance with subpoenas. They continue to withhold critical evidence and testimony and to act as if they are above the law because they work at the White House. This claim was rejected by Judge Bates after months of consideration. Still, the White House refuses to appear or cooperate. This continuing contempt of Congress is another example of the lengths to which this administration will go and how it uses government lawyers to protect its actions from scrutiny and increase its power, rather than respect the rule of law."

Also yesterday, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) sent a letter to the Republican National Committee arguing that the ruling also applies to e-mail records the RNC has refused to turn over in connection with the U.S. attorneys probe.

On the Inside Track

The president's legal team also has to worry about an executive branch investigation that, according to investigative reporter Murray Waas, is now reaching into the White House.

Waas writes for "The Justice Department investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys has been extended to encompass allegations that senior White House officials played a role in providing false and misleading information to Congress, according to numerous sources involved in the inquiry.

"The widened scope raises the possibility that investigators will pursue criminal charges against some administration officials, and recommend appointment of a special prosecutor if there is evidence of criminal misconduct. . . .

"One senior Bush administration official told me that White House staffers talk about their 'nightmare scenario' in which any one of the three currently internal DOJ probes 'spins out of control' and leads to the appointment of a special prosecutor with broad authority. . . .

"The investigators have been specifically probing the role of White House officials in the drafting and approval of a Feb. 23, 2007 letter sent to Congress by the Justice Department denying that Karl Rove . . . had anything to do with the firing of Bud Cummins, a U.S. Attorney from Arkansas. Cummins was fired in Dec. 2006 to make room for Tim Griffin, a protégé and former top aide of Rove's.

"The February 23 letter stated, 'The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin,' and that the Justice Department was 'not aware of anyone lobbying, either inside or outside of the administration, for Mr. Griffin's appointment.'

"Federal investigators have obtained documents showing that Kyle Sampson, then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Chris Oprison, then an associate White House counsel, drafted and approved the letter even though they had first-hand knowledge that the assertions were not true. . . .

"Oprison, in turn, consulted with White House Counsel Fred Fielding and Deputy White House Counsel Bill Kelley in approving the draft of the letter, according to a review of White House records undertaken in response to questions for this story."

Waas writes that "some witnesses to the investigation told me that they have been asked specifically about Rove's own personal efforts.

"Two former senior Justice Department officials, former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and principal Associate General William Moscella, have separately provided damaging information to the two internal investigative agencies.

"Both, according to sources familiar with their still-confidential testimony, said they inadvertently gave misleading testimony to Congress about the firings of the U.S. attorneys because they were misled by Rove himself in addition to other White House figures."

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