The House Judiciary Committee chairman pressed President Bush to let White House aides testify before Congress about his decision to free I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from imprisonment in the CIA leak case.
Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, sent a letter asking the president to waive any claims of executive privilege regarding documents and testimony about the Libby case. The judiciary panel will hold a hearing in two days on Bush's decision to commute the 2 1/2-year prison sentence imposed on Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
"While I recognize that the clemency power is a presidential prerogative, your decision to commute Scooter Libby's sentence has proven highly controversial," Conyers wrote to Bush in a letter dated Friday and released yesterday.
The hearing, Conyers said, will "explore the grave questions that arise when the presidential clemency power is used to erase criminal penalties for high-ranking executive branch employees whose offenses relate to their work for the president."
Bush left in place Libby's convictions for perjury and obstructing an investigation of the leak of Central Intelligence Agency official Valerie Plame Wilson 's identity.
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that Conyers's letter seems "to concede what we think are the principal elements" of clemency powers and executive privilege, that they are the president's prerogatives.
Congressional Democrats are battling the Bush administration over its claims of executive privilege relating to the firing of eight US attorneys last year. Yesterday, Bush ordered two former aides, including ex-counsel Harriet Miers, not to testify about their roles in the dismissals.
Democrats have criticized the commutation as a misuse of presidential power, while some Republicans have praised the president's decision to spare Libby from what they see as an excessive sentence.
Libby was convicted on March 6. He was sentenced to prison by US District Judge Reggie Walton, who said there was overwhelming evidence of Libby's guilt.
In the letter to Bush, Conyers noted that President Clinton waived executive privilege to let several of his top aides testify before Congress about the pardon he granted to financier Marc Rich shortly before leaving office in January 2001.
Conyers said the Judiciary Committee wants to know if Cheney played any role in the decision to commute Libby's sentence, whether Libby was told he would be "protected from jail time," and whether the administration was lobbied by people seeking clemency for Libby.