Bi-partisan Capitol Hill Turns Up The Heat On Gonzales

The Senate Judiciary Committee was set to vote today to give authorization to the chairman and ranking member to issue subpoenas to five Justice Department officials as well as six of the U.S. attorneys fired, to get more information about the reasons for the controversial firings.

Separately, the committee may also consider another motion to give Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and ranking member Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, authorization to issue subpoenas for then White House counsel Harriet Miers, President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove, and Miers's deputy, William Kelley, to testify about their roles in the firings, a source said.

"Our first preference is the cooperative route," the Judiciary aide said. "This is just protective and gives the committee the flexibility it needs to pursue its investigation."

Four of the eight prosecutors fired, including David Iglesias of New Mexico, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, Carol Lam of California, and John McKay of Washington, testified on March 6. But two others, Paul Charlton of Arizona and Daniel Bogden of Nevada, said they would not testify without the protective cover of subpoenas.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who is also leading the charge on this controversy, said he wants to ask administration officials five questions:

Was Lam fired because of her investigations into GOP Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Jerry Lewis? What role did Bush and his staff play in the removal of the U.S. attorneys? Who at the Justice Department inserted the language in the U.S.A. Patriot Act enabling the attorney general to circumvent Senate confirmation for interim U.S. attorneys? What role did Rove or Miers play in the appointment as U.S. attorney in Arkansas of former Rove aide Timothy Griffin? How did Iglesias become a target for removal?

As the furor continued, the Justice Department said Gonzales would be meeting with key leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill this week and next to answer questions and set the record straight on the firings. President Bush expressed his confidence in Gonzales, even as he expressed his displeasure at Gonzales's handling of the crisis.

"And he's right, mistakes were made," said Bush. "And I'm, frankly, not happy about it, because there is a lot of confusion over what really has been a customary practice by the presidents. U.S. attorneys and others serve at the pleasure of the president. Past administrations have removed U.S. attorneys; they're right to do so."

White House counsel Fred Fielding met yesterday with House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and other members and told them the White House would provide additional documents on Friday. Conyers has said he hopes to work in a cooperative fashion with the White House to resolve outstanding questions but, if need be, will also resort to subpoenas, as he did to obtain the testimony of six of the U.S. attorneys fired.

By Chitra Ragavan