WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Thursday he will subpoena White House political adviser Karl Rove to testify about the firings of federal prosecutors.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, left, said he's being "stonewalled" by White House Political Director Karl Rove.
"We've now reached a point where the accumulated evidence shows that political considerations factored into the unprecedented firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys last year. Testimony and documents showed that the list was compiled based on input from the highest political ranks in the White House, including Mr. Rove and Mr. [Scott] Jennings, and today I will subpoena Mr. Rove and Mr. Jennings."
Jennings is deputy director of political affairs at the White House.
Leahy's threat is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle among congressional Democrats, the White House and the Justice Department over the firings of U.S. attorneys.
Critics have alleged the attorneys were forced out for political reasons and, in one case, to allow a Rove protégé to take one of the posts.
"For over four months, I've exhausted every avenue, seeking the voluntary cooperation of Karl Rove and J. Scott Jennings but to no avail," Leahy said on the Senate floor. "They have stonewalled every request. Watch Leahy tell the Senate why he's seeking a subpoena. »
"Indeed the White House is choosing to withhold documents and is instructing witnesses who are former officials -- not current officials but former officials -- to refuse to answer questions and provide information and documents. We've now reached a point where the accumulated evidence shows that political considerations factored into the unprecedented firing of at least nine United States attorneys last year."
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, said pursuing subpoenas against White House officials would probably outlast the Bush administration, noting that the last time such a case was litigated, it took more than two years.
"We're moving through a minuet which has preceded today's events or this period's events many times between the executive branch and the congressional branch on oversight," Specter said. "And we're trying to work it out. So you have the subpoenas as a bargaining tool. And then you see what the reaction is. And I'm still hopeful that we can work something out. We're not going to find out anything by seeking to enforce these subpoenas."
A group of Democrats on the committee also on Thursday said they were asking for a special counsel to investigate whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales perjured himself in his testimony on Tuesday about meetings about a terrorist suspect surveillance program as well as the U.S. attorneys case.
In response to Leahy's and the committee members' actions, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "Every day, this Congress gets a little more out of control," accusing Democratic lawmakers of neglecting more important issues such as spending legislation.
While the Bush administration has maintained that the prosecutors' firings were handled properly, the controversy has led to the resignations of at least three top Justice Department officials and triggered widespread criticism of Gonzales, who repeatedly told a Senate committee in April that he did not recall details of the firings.
Leahy subpoenaed former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former Rove aide Sara Taylor to testify about what they knew about the attorney firings. The White House has resisted allowing them to testify, instead offering to allow them to be interviewed off the record and not under oath.
The committee rejected that offer.
The committee also authorized Leahy to subpoena Rove, but in June, two Democratic congressional sources said they decided not to issue a subpoena for him because they are building their case by talking to and gathering information from lower-level witnesses and officials before they get to the more senior, more important witnesses.
"We want to build up and get documents to have basis to ask questions of Rove," one of the sources said. "It's the way you do it in any investigation."
E-mails and documents released by the Justice Department show the White House and other administration officials were more involved in the dismissals, and much earlier, than they had acknowledged.
Taylor resigned from her White House job in May. Miers resigned her White House post in January. Bush nominated Miers to serve on the Supreme Court but later withdrew her nomination.
Leahy had warned the White House that subpoenas would be issued if it did not fully cooperate with the Senate effort to provide the desired information. He said earlier efforts to get information from the White House had been ignored.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to cite Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten for contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas that it issued in the attorney firings.
The citations were requested in response to Miers' and Bolten's failure to comply with subpoenas issued by the committee for documents and testimony, including Miers' refusal to appear at her scheduled July 12 hearing. E-mail to a friend