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House Panel Authorizes Subpoenas Of Officials

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) talks with colleagues on a Judiciary subcommittee, which voted to authorize subpoenas for White House and Justice officials.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) talks with colleagues on a Judiciary subcommittee, which voted to authorize subpoenas for White House and Justice officials. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

The most likely comparison to the current showdown came in 1998, when the GOP-run Government Reform and Oversight Committee, as the panel was then known, voted along party lines to cite then-Attorney General Janet Reno as being in contempt of Congress for her refusal to turn over internal Justice Department memos regarding a sprawling campaign finance investigation. The Justice Department then offered a staff briefing on the memos, and the House never acted on the contempt citation.

Republicans involved in those Clinton-era clashes said their repeated demands for White House testimony should not be compared to Democrats' demands on the matter of the U.S. attorneys.

"There's a big difference between 'We want to hear from people about why they're not able to pursue criminal wrongdoing' and 'We just want to hire and fire whoever we want to, and such personnel decisions are our business,' " said Mark Corallo, a top aide to the Government Reform and Oversight Committee during the Clinton years.

Philip Schiliro, Waxman's chief of staff, said the Republican-controlled committee was not that restrained. In one incident, he said, then-White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles was deposed on his knowledge of Clinton's holiday-card list.

For now, Republicans said yesterday, the president's tough stand has stanched the bleeding in the prosecutors controversy. Rep. Chris Cannon (Utah), the top Republican on the House Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, attacked the "show trial" nature of the investigation. "The only purpose of subpoenas issued to the White House now is to fan the flames and photo ops of partisan controversy," he said.

Senior Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had lunch at the Justice Department with Gonzales, during which he assured the group that none of the firings was designed to affect "any ongoing investigation" regarding corruption, according to Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.). Kyl also warned that Democrats would be in for a long legal battle over subpoenas.

Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this report.


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