Compromise needed on attorney dismissals
The strife deepens between Congress and the White House about the firing of U.S. attorneys.
CONGRESS has stepped closer to a showdown with the White House concerning the Justice Department's firing of nine U.S. attorneys for their perceived disloyalty to the Bush administration and Republican priorities.
The House Judiciary Committee's approval of contempt citations for two of the president's aides and Bush's continuing refusal to comply with committee subpoenas ratchet up a standoff that has crippled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and unearthed issues that cast doubts on his veracity and ability to lead.
Congress and the administration should make sincere efforts to reach a compromise. Failing that, the conflict could provoke court battles likely to last longer than Bush's presidency and consume attention on Capitol Hill for months to come.
The problems reach beyond the attorneys' dismissals. The president's claim of executive privilege in barring testimony by former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and his refusal to turn over relevant material undermine legislative authority to examine executive action for misdeeds.
Bush contends that he cannot receive candid advice if aides fear their remarks could be made public. He has offered to allow Miers and Bolten to be questioned, but without taking an oath, without transcripts and outside the public eye. The House panel has rejected those conditions.
How the citations, which still require approval by the full House, will be enforced is another hurdle. Bush has said he will block the Justice Department from prosecuting them, leading Republican Sen. Arlen Specter to suggest a special prosecutor be appointed and should the department refuse that, that the Senate convene its own trial.
The legislative inquiries have seriously damaged Gonzales as they also unveiled questions about his role in civil liberties abuses by the FBI, and the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program when he was White House counsel.
His testimony before a Senate panel this week furthered legislative hostility when he denied going to the hospital bed of an ailing John Ashcroft to pressure his predecessor to approve the surveillance program the department had already disapproved. He said his visit was to inform Ashcroft that a majority of key congressional leaders recommended the program should go on. Some of those key leaders disputed Gonzales' account, and yesterday four Senate Democrats called for a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales had committed perjury.
The episode was a continuation of the attorney general's evasive, disingenuous conduct. He needs to go.
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