Democrats send subpoena to Gonzales
Turn up pressure for data on firings
WASHINGTON -- Democrats used a subpoena yesterday to seek more documents from Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, escalating their fight with the Bush administration over the firings of eight US attorneys.
The subpoena, issued a week before Gonzales is to testify under oath before Congress about the dismissals, calls for hundreds of documents either withheld or heavily blacked out by his department. The subpoena sets a Monday deadline for Gonzales to produce the documents.
"We have been patient in allowing the department to work through its concerns regarding the sensitive nature of some of these materials," Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote Gonzales in a letter accompanying the subpoena. "Unfortunately, the department has not indicated any meaningful willingness to find a way to meet our legitimate needs."
He characterized the subpoena as a last resort after weeks of negotiations with the Justice Department over documents and e-mails the committee wants in its pursuit to find out whether any of the firings were improper.
Responding, Brian Roehrkasse, Justice Department spokesman, stopped short of saying the department would fight the subpoena. But he said legal concerns about violating the privacy rights of people mentioned in the documents have kept the Justice Department from releasing the papers.
"Much of the information that the Congress seeks pertains to individuals other than the US attorneys who resigned," Roehrkasse said. "Because there are individuals' privacy interests implicated by publicly releasing this information, it is unfortunate that Congress would choose this option."
He added: "In light of these concerns, we will continue to work closely with congressional staff, and we still hope and expect that we will be able to reach an accommodation with the Congress."
Roehrkasse also said many of the documents that lawmakers now seek "have already been available to them for review" but declined to say how or where.
Conyers's counterpart, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also asked Gonzales in a letter for documents on the firings that have been retained by the Justice Department. Such letters may precede a subpoena, which Leahy's committee is expected to authorize this week.
Leahy's committee also asked Gonzales for documents on a prosecution in Wisconsin that was overturned by a federal appeals court for lack of evidence. The defendant, state worker Georgia Thompson, had been accused of bid-rigging by favoring a company with ties to Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat.
Leahy and five other Democratic senators said they were "concerned whether or not politics may have played a role" in the case against Thompson.
Together, the developments made clear that Democrats would not make life for Gonzales and the Bush administration easier in the week leading up to his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17.
Meanwhile, Gonzales yesterday named Kevin J. O'Connor, US attorney for Connecticut, as his new chief of staff, replacing Kyle Sampson, who had orchestrated the firings for the department and resigned last month.