Leahy pushes for sworn, public testimony on the firing of U.S. Attorneys

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he plans to push ahead with his plan to force several members of the Bush Administration to testify under oath on the firing of 8 federal prosecutors.

Leahy has rejected efforts by the White House to have the officials testify in private and without a transcript of the hearing.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, Leahy is playing a key role in this legal dispute between Congress and the Bush Administration.

Leahy says he wants to investigate allegations that 8 federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons:

(Leahy) “I want it open and I want under pains of penalty, but I want the American people to know what’s going on. I don’t want some closed door meeting where a handful of senators hear what’s going on and we all come out with different views of what was said because there’s no transcript or anything.”

(Kinzel) Last week, the Judiciary committee voted to give Leahy the authority to subpoena members of the Bush Administration who refuse to testify voluntarily in front of the panel.

However the White House is resisting these efforts on the grounds of executive privilege and it’s possible that the conflict will have to be settled by the courts.

Cheryl Hanna is a constitutional expert at the Vermont Law School. She thinks Leahy is absolutely right to demand that all officials testify under oath:

(Hanna) “There’s been a history in this particular White House of not being forthright with information, and what you really want to do is make sure people are telling the truth, and as we saw in the Scooter Libby case, for example, even under oath the Administration wasn’t forthcoming about its role in the Valerie Plame leak.

(Kinzel) But Hanna says Leahy’s legal strategy represents a significant risk for the relationship between Congress and the executive branch:

(Hanna) “There is a real risk here that, if the case gets to court, that the President will likely win and the Democratic Congress will lose because, unless there is some really significant evidence that the president and the Justice Department engaged in obstruction of justice, the president would still have a claim of privilege that I think is stronger than overriding that claim.”

(Kinzel) Leahy doesn’t see the case in the same way:

(Leahy) “No. I think that we run the risk – if we don’t continue and ask the questions – we run the risk of the credibility of law enforcement being severely diminished. All these U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president but justice does not serve at the pleasure of this president or any president.”

(Kinzel) Later this week the Senate Judiciary committee will hear from Kyle Sampson – he resigned recently as the chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Sampson has agreed to voluntarily testify concerning his knowledge about the firing of the federal prosecutors.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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