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Leahy Ready to Fight White House

The White House has urged the House and Senate Judiciary committees to withdraw the subpoenas and accept Bush's offer to provide information in private briefings with lawmakers without a transcript.

Over the years, Congress and the White House have avoided a full-blown court test. Under federal rules, lawmakers could vote to cite witnesses for contempt and refer the matter to the local U.S. attorney to bring before a grand jury. Since 1975, 10 senior administration officials have been cited, but the disputes were all resolved before getting to court.

On Sunday, Leahy dismissed the White House's proposal for private briefings because, he said, it forecloses Congress' right to subpoena additional information should officials fail to provide meaningful information.

Leahy said he might be open to an offer in which White House officials were to agree to private briefings that were both sworn and committed to a transcript. But ultimately, the public have a right to hear what's been done, he said.

Leahy's committee also has summoned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to testify this month on the eavesdropping program and an array of other matters that have cost a half-dozen top Justice Department officials their jobs.

"The president and the vice president are not above the law any more than you and I are," Leahy said. "The White House hasn't given us anything. What we have been able to get has been some things, a lot of it erased or blanked out from the Department of Justice."

Fratto, the White House spokesman, said the eavesdropping program was designed as an early-warning system to detect and prevent terrorist attacks by intercepting communications in or out of the U.S. by suspected al-Qaida terrorists. He said intelligence committees in Congress have been consistently briefed on the programs.

"It was safe and effective and saved lives," Fratto said.

Leahy spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."

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Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann in Kennebunkport, Maine, contributed to this report.


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