Leahy requests meeting with Bush over attorney firings

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy has requested a meeting with President Bush to try to avoid a constitutional confrontation over the firing of 9 U.S. Attorneys last year.

Several senior Bush Administration officials have refused to testify about their role in the controversy.

Unless a compromise can be reached, Leahy says it’s likely the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to hold the officials in Contempt of Congress.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Did the Bush Administration fire a group of U.S. Attorneys last December for political reasons?

That’s the central question that Leahy says he wants answered. But Leahy says the White House has blocked his efforts by refusing to allow several senior officials, including Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, to testify about their knowledge of this case.

The Bush Administration argues that these officials are exempt from testifying under the legal principle of Executive Privilege.

Leahy says he decided to make a personal appeal to the President at the urging of Pennsylvania senator Arlen Spector. Spector serves as the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary committee:

(Leahy "I’m hoping that the President will think about this suggestion that first Senator Spector made after he ridden up to on Air Force One up to Pennsylvania with the President, and would sit down with Senator Spector, myself – he can invite any of the Republican members he wants and find a way to do this. There are enough people who are after Mr. Rove I’m not I just want to find out what happened."

(Kinzel) Leahy says the White House has offered to allow these officials to informally talk to a few members of the Committee. Leahy has rejected that plan because he says there needs to be a formal record of what’s discussed:

(Leahy) "If they want to have a meeting with a transcript with the understanding there may well be follow up questions, I don’t have any problem with that at all. But I’ve talked with them and they’ve said basically take it or leave it. It’d be behind closed doors, no oath, no transcript. They would set the agenda of what the questions could be and there’d be no follow up. Well nobody would accept that I wouldn’t accept that from a Democratic administration."

(Kinzel) Republican State Party chairman Rob Roper dismissed Leahy’s plan. Roper says the senator’s actions are part of an ongoing political attack against the White House:

(Roper) "Those attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President and he has every right to fire then and hire them as he sees fit. I don’t see why there’s an investigation in the first place. This kind of personal attack this kind of personal vendetta is not productive."

(Kinzel) If a compromise agreement can’t be reached by the end of the month, it’s likely that the Judiciary committee will ask the full Senate to hold Rove in Contempt of Congress.

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

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