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House panel plans vote on White House subpoenas

Story Highlights

• White House delays decision on Rove, others testifying on attorneys' firing
• Judiciary chairman says committee will vote on forcing testimony
• Snow cites "hazy memories" in backing away from earlier statements on firing
• Senate committee wants to talk to two more White House, Justice officials
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to subpoena current and former White House officials over the firings of federal prosecutors, the panel's chairman said Friday.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding on Friday delayed a decision that was due on whether the officials would be allowed to testify voluntarily.

Democrats want President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and others to testify about their involvement in the process of firing the U.S. attorneys, a swirling controversy that is threatening Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' job. (Watch the factors that will determine Gonzales' fate Video)

"The White House counsel's office advised us this afternoon that the White House would not be providing documents to the committee, or providing the White House's position with respect to the committee securing the testimony of White House officials today," said Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a written statement.

Conyers, D-Michigan, said that Fielding indicated he would get back to the committee with the information it has requested "early next week," but the congressman said he will schedule a vote on authorizing subpoenas for the White House officials anyway.

"It is disappointing that the White House is not coming forward with their plan to bring witnesses to testify," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. "We hope that this delay is not a signal they will not cooperate."

The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Schumer is a member, also wants to interview several current and former Bush administration officials, including Rove and Miers.

"I hope the president makes the right decision and works with us voluntarily to root out this corruption," the committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said in a written statement. "If officials from this administration refuse to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee, we will move forward to investigate and get to the truth. We need to rebuild the public's confidence that our laws will be enforced without fear or favor."

The committee this week said it wants to hear from five officials in the Justice Department and would send subpoenas to them if necessary.

On Thursday, the committee sent letters calling for testimony from two more individuals, Scott Jennings at the White House and William Moschella at the Justice Department.

The letter concerning Jennings says the committee wants to hear from him because an e-mail was released this week showing he tried to set up a meeting with "someone" from New Mexico about a fired U.S. attorney there, David Iglesias.

The committee wants to talk to Moschella about new documents showing discussions with the White House about using new Patriot Act authority to avoid a confirmation process for new U.S. attorneys.

White House backs off earlier statements

Meanwhile, the White House backed away from its statements about who in the administration had suggested firing all the U.S. attorneys around the country -- a key element of what has become a political storm.

Eight U.S. attorneys were ultimately fired, and Senate Democrats are leading an investigation into what led to the actions. Amid that, word broke that some in the administration had suggested sacking all 93 federal prosecutors early in Bush's second term.

The White House said the idea for such a move -- which the president has the right to do -- came from Miers, who wanted "new blood" in those offices. Miers became White House counsel after Gonzales moved to the attorney general's office.

But e-mails surfaced Thursday indicating Rove and then-White House Counsel Gonzales were involved in discussions about the U.S. attorney shakeup before Gonzales became attorney general.

Gonzales' office issued a statement saying he "has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. attorneys while he was still White House counsel," and noted that the "time referred to in the e-mail was during the weeks he was preparing for his confirmation hearing." The White House said there had been no contradiction of, or inconsistency with, its previous statements.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday the White House cannot stand by its assertions that Miers was the first to suggest firing all federal prosecutors.

"At this juncture, people have hazy memories," he said. "The thing we can say with assurance is Karl [Rove] recalling she raised it."

A question at the core of the situation is whether some of the eight fired U.S. attorneys had been pressured by Republicans to launch corruption investigations of Democrats. The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering whether frustration over that was the reason they were fired instead of their performance.

Justice officials described the firings as performance-related, sparking an outcry from the fired lawyers and allegations of political pressure on federal cases.

Gonzales has said he would never have supported firing any prosecutors for political reasons.

The Justice Department later admitted that one of the eight -- H.E. "Bud" Cummins, the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas -- was sacked to make room for a former Rove aide returning from military service. But Rove said Thursday that the administration had "reasonable and appropriate disagreements" with the remaining seven that justified their removals.

Smith joins call for Gonzales' ouster

Several Democrats have called for Gonzales' ouster, as has Republican Sen. John Sununu. And Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, told CNN, "For the institution of Congress it would be helpful to have someone who comes before Congress ... to have more credibility" so that lawmakers don't have to wonder whether the person "is telling me the truth."

A House Republican, Dana Rohrabacher of California, also suggested Gonzales should go, according to The Associated Press.

"It is ultimately the president's decision, but perhaps it would benefit this administration if the attorney general was replaced with someone with a more professional focus rather than personal loyalty," he said.

The controversy has already cost Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, his job.

Gonzales said Tuesday that Sampson had managed the process and kept others in the dark, leading to Justice Department officials providing "incomplete" information about the dismissals to Congress.

In one e-mail, Sampson wrote that the "vast majority of U.S. Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc."

Snow said Friday he did not know what Sampson meant by that term. He said the term loyalty under the Bush administration refers to doing one's job loyally.


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