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White House, House Judiciary Hold Secret Talks On Miers Subpoena

Even as the Bush administration appeals a recent federal court decision requiring former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to appear before the House Judiciary Committee in order to raise an executive-privilege claim, lawyers for the two sides are holding "confidential talks" about resolving the legal impasse, although those discussions have yielded little so far.

The Justice Department also accused the Judiciary Committee of improperly leaking details of those negotiations.

In court documents filed on Friday, lawyers for the Judiciary Committee accused the White House of stalling rather than complying with U.S. District Judge John Bates’ July 31 decision ordering Miers to appear before the panel, as required by the committee’s subpoena. The Judiciary Committee is investigating the White House’s role in the U.S. attorney firing scandal and wants to quiz Miers about the prosecutor purge, including her role in the firings. The White House has refused to allow Miers to appear before the panel, or to turn over internal White House documents relating to the issue, citing executive privilege, but Bates ruled Miers must at least show up in order to raise an executive-privilege claim. The Justice Department is appealing Bates’ ruling and has asked the judge for a stay in the case to allow the appeal to move forward before Miers is once again called before the committee.

Following Bates’ ruling, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) sent a letter to current White House Counsel Fred Fielding seeking a negotiated settlement. Fielding agreed, and attorneys for the two sides met on Aug. 13 and 15, according to an affidavit from Eliot Mincberg, a Democratic lawyer on the Judiciary Committee.

Mincberg said there have been “preliminary discussions” between the two sides, although “no concrete progress has been made.”

Mincberg added, however, that Emmet Flood, special counsel to President Bush, “indicated that, at some point in the future, the White House intended to move off the negotiating position it has held since March 2007.” The White House has refused to make Miers or other senior Bush aides, including former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, available to testify unless they can do so behind closed doors and without any transcript being kept. Both the House and Senate Judiciary committees refused to agree to that demand, but only the House panel sued the White House over the matter.
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