A Senate chairman said Thursday that President Bush was not involved in the firings of U.S. attorneys last winter, and he therefore ruled illegal the president’s executive privilege claims protecting his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and former adviser Karl Rove.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy directed Bolten, Rove, former White House political director Sara Taylor and her deputy, J. Scott Jennings, to comply “immediately” with their subpoenas for documents and information about the White House’s role in the firings of U.S. attorneys.
The ruling is a formality that clears the way for Leahy’s panel to vote on whether to advance contempt citations against the four to the full Senate.
The executive privilege claim “is surprising in light of the significant and uncontroverted evidence that the president had no involvement in these firings,” Leahy wrote in his ruling. “The president’s lack of involvement in these firings — by his own account and that of many others — calls into question any claim of executive privilege.”
What happens now is not clear. Leahy did not set a deadline for the subjects of the subpoenas to comply. He could bring the contempt citations before the committee, but there were no plans to do that, according to officials close to the panel.
The ruling was the latest salvo in a nearly yearlong controversy spawned by the firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys that ultimately cost former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales his job.
[Attorney General Michael] Mukasey did not rule out allowing a federal prosecutor to take the case of any contempt citations passed by Congress. House leaders also have filed a contempt citation in their chamber against Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, but no floor vote has been scheduled.
Leahy held off on his ruling while the committee moved Mukasey’s nomination, in part because committee officials felt there seemed little point in pursuing citations the White House seemed certain to block.
But Mukasey’s testimony and his promise to quit if Bush ignored his legal advice gives any citation — even the threat of one — more weight.