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Democrats request perjury probe of Gonzales

Reuters | July 26, 2007
Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic senators urged that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for possible perjury and issued a subpoena on Thursday to senior White House political adviser Karl Rove.

The actions were part of an escalating battle between the Democratic-led Congress and the White House that appears headed toward court.

Four Democratic senators wrote U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, asking that he appoint an independent counsel to examine the truthfulness of Gonzales' testimony regarding his firing of federal prosecutors and President George W. Bush's warrantless domestic-spying program.

"We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress," they wrote.

The letter was signed by members of the Judiciary Committee: Charles Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

"Oh give me a break," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "It's amazing to me how every day the Democrats find a way to get out of doing the work Americans are expecting on issues important to them."

Shortly afterward, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, subpoenaed two more White House aides -- Rove and deputy political director J. Scott Jennings -- in his panel's probe of the fired prosecutors.

"The evidence shows that senior White House political operatives were focused on the political impact of federal prosecutions and whether federal prosecutors were doing enough to bring partisan voter fraud and corruption cases," Leahy said.

"It is obvious that the reasons given for the firings of these prosecutors were contrived as part of a cover up," Leahy charged.

The White House has said the firings were justified. It has rejected calls from Democrats and some Republicans for Gonzales to resign.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Wednesday recommended contempt of Congress charges against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers for refusing to provide subpoenaed information and testimony. The White House contends that Bush's assertion of executive privilege shields them.

Gonzales drew fire at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee on Tuesday when lawmakers challenged his truthfulness and ability to lead the Justice Department.

Following his appearance, the White House and Justice Department said they believed Gonzales had been truthful.

The four Democratic senators who wrote Clement disagreed, saying: "We believe a special counsel is needed because it has become apparent that the attorney general has provided -- at a minimum -- half truths and misleading statements."

They cited as examples matters dealing with his firing last year of nine of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys and dealings with Bush's spying program in the war on terrorism while Gonzales was White House counsel.

The senators said Gonzales testified this week that a White House briefing in March 2004 for members of Congress was about "intelligence activities" and not about the spying program, despite assertions to the contrary by others who attended the meeting.

Gonzales testified earlier this year that there had not been any "serious disagreement" about the surveillance program. But former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told Congress in May a number Justice Department officials threatened to quit over it.

In April, Gonzales told Congress he had not talked to potential witnesses about his firing of federal prosecutors. But the next month a former aide, Monica Goodling, testified he had raised the topic with her.

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