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House Panel Subpoenas Gonzales for Documents

By Dan Eggen, Washington Post

The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today seeking hundreds of pages of new or uncensored records related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year, officials said.

It is the first subpoena to be served on the Bush administration in connection with the dismissals and escalates the confrontation between Democrats and the Bush administration, which has resisted demands for more documents and for public testimony from White House aides about the dismissals.

"We have been patient in allowing the department to work through its concerns regarding the sensitive nature of some of these materials," Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the judiciary panel's chairman, wrote Gonzales in a letter that accompanied the subpoena. "Unfortunately, the department has not indicated any meaningful willingness to find a way to meet our legitimate needs."

Conyers added that "further delay in receiving these materials will not serve any constructive purpose."

House and Senate committees have previously authorized subpoenas in the U.S. attorney investigation but have never issued one before.

The subpoena demands that Gonzales turn over the material by Monday at 2 p.m., according to a copy released by the committee. It does not require Justice to reproduce copies of documents, totaling nearly 4,000 pages, that were turned over in recent weeks, except in cases where the previous versions were censored.

Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "We still hope and expect that we will be able to reach an accommodation with the Congress," but signaled that Justice will consider opposing the congressional demand.

"Much of the information that the Congress seeks pertains to individuals other than the U.S. attorneys who resigned," Roehrkasse said. "Furthermore, many of the documents Congress is now seeking have already been available to them for review. Because there are individual privacy interests implicated by publicly releasing this information, it is unfortunate the Congress would choose this option."

Legal experts said the standoff will likely end up in court unless the two sides reach agreement on a compromise.

The subpoena comes one week before Gonzales's scheduled appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is widely viewed as a crucial test for the embattled attorney general, who is fending off demands from Democrats and some Republicans that he resign.

Seven U.S. attorneys were fired Dec. 7, and another was dismissed earlier in the year, as part of a plan that originated in the White House to replace federal prosecutors based in part on their perceived loyalty to President Bush and his policies. The uproar over the removals has grown amid allegations of improper political contact by GOP lawmakers and claims by Democrats that the firings may have been aimed at disrupting ongoing public corruption investigations.

Even as the House committee ratcheted up the pressure on Gonzales, Senate Democrats took another step today to expand the scope of an ongoing probe beyond the dismissals themselves. Wisconsin's two Democratic senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, joined others in demanding records and other information about a disputed federal public corruption prosecution in that state, according to a letter to Gonzales.

A federal appeals court in Chicago last week ordered a former Wisconsin state employee released after overturning her conviction in the case, which one judge criticized as based on thin evidence. The case was cited prominently by Republicans during an unsuccessful challenge of Wisconsin's Democratic governor last year.


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