Michael Abramowitz and Amy Goldstein
June 29, 2008
The White House invoked executive privilege yesterday in withholding subpoenaed documents on fired U.S. attorneys out of confidence that it can prevail in court and weather a political storm by blaming Congress for overreaching, administration officials said.
White House counsel Fred F. Fielding said in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House judiciary committees that President Bush will not make available the requested documents or permit testimony by two former senior aides about White House and Justice Department calculations in the firing of nine federal prosecutors.
Striking a theme used by other presidents being investigated by Congress, Fielding wrote that Bush is taking the position to preserve what he termed a “bedrock Presidential prerogative: for the President to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice” from top aides.
Advisers would be “reluctant to communicate openly and honestly” if they feared being dragged before Congress to testify or provide documents of their deliberations, he wrote.
Coming on the same day the Senate torpedoed Bush’s immigration plan, Fielding’s letter and the White House’s statements threatened to worsen the already strained relations between the administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, which has launched aggressive investigations aimed at exposing White House wrongdoing.
The statements from all sides yesterday called to mind the harsh rhetoric in Washington heard at the height of the Watergate scandal.
“This is a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances,” said Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law.”
The White House’s action yesterday did not address the separate Senate subpoenas this week for documents related to the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. If Congress insists on those subpoenas, a senior administration official said, “we will have to deal with that. . . . I am not going to speculate at this point.”