By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 12, 2007
President Bush's former counsel Harriet E. Miers yesterday rebuffed a subpoena demanding her congressional testimony, as former White House political director Sara M. Taylor told the Senate Judiciary Committee she did not speak with President Bush about the administration's plans to fire a group of U.S. attorneys last year.
Taylor, who left her job two months ago, said she had no knowledge that Bush was involved in the dismissals at all. "I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys," Taylor said. "I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed."
Democrats promptly said that her remarks could undermine Bush's assertion that White House deliberations about the U.S. attorney firings are protected by executive privilege. Bush's current counsel, Fred F. Fielding, had cited that prerogative -- which generally applies to matters involving the president -- in explaining why Bush had "directed" Taylor not to provide information about the deliberations to Congress.
Several hours after Taylor concluded her appearance, the House Judiciary Committee announced that Miers was set to refuse to appear at a hearing today. Miers's attorney, George T. Manning of Atlanta, said in a letter to the committee that the administration's assertion of executive privilege gives her "absolute immunity" from being forced to testify on Capitol Hill.
The developments are part of a legal battle between the White House and Democratic lawmakers who have argued that the privilege claimed by the administration is overly broad.
"Your answer that you did not discuss these matters with the president and, to the best of your knowledge, he was not involved is going to make some nervous at the White House," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told Taylor. "It seriously undercuts his claim of executive privilege if he was not involved."
Nine U.S. attorneys were fired last year, including seven on one day in December. The firings and other contested Justice Department personnel practices have led to Democratic calls for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who is strongly supported by Bush, his longtime boss and friend.
Democrats had hoped that Taylor would offer a full explanation of her role in crafting the plans -- as well as the roles of senior Bush adviser Karl Rove and other political operatives in the West Wing -- but she repeatedly declined to detail discussions within the White House, with Justice Department officials and with outside parties.
In the questions she did answer, Taylor revealed that she was "furious" when she realized that her friend and former White House political-office colleague, Tim Griffin, would not get his full appointment as U.S. attorney in Little Rock because of Democratic objections to how Griffin received an interim appointment.
Taylor also testified that she was not in charge of putting names on the firing list and did not know who was.
It is unclear how Congress will proceed in its legal showdown with the White House. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) warned Miers that she could face contempt charges for failing to appear, and Leahy said he has not ruled out a similar approach for Taylor. But other lawmakers said there is little appetite for such an approach. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the committee could seek a Senate vote on finding the White House as a whole in contempt of Congress.
House Democrats said they plan to go ahead with their hearing today without Miers, and will probably vote to authorize Conyers to issue subpoenas to the Republican National Committee for e-mails from White House officials such as Taylor who used e-mail accounts based in the RNC.