Don't force aides to testify in prosecutor scandal, Bush warns Democrats
U.S. President George W. Bushpromised on Tuesday to disclose all relevant information into the controversial firings of eight prosecutors, and warned Democrats not to challenge his decision.
Bush said he will allow the Democrat-controlled Congress to interview key members of his staff regardinglast year'sfirings.
He also said he ispermitting Congress to sift through 3,000 pages of internal documents and e-mails relating to the issue.
He called his offer an "extraordinary level of disclosure" and advised the Democrats not to reject his offer and instead issue subpoenas, forcing White House staff to testify under oath.
"It will be regrettable if [the Democrats] chose to head down the partisan road, issuing subpoenas,"Bushsaid during apress conference at the White House.
"We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honourable public servants."
Democrat critics claim the eight U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons, because they were involved in corruption cases against Republicans.
The Republicans and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalescontend the dismissals were all performance-related and that the White House was minimally involved.
Democrats want aides to testify under oath
Democrats were quick to attack Bush's promises for disclosure on Monday.
"Testimony should be on the record and under oath. That's the formula for true accountability," said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bush told reporters Tuesday that he will aggressively fight any subpoena orders in court.
He argued that subpoenas would hurt the way the White House operates. He said his staff need to feel comfortable freely discussing issues and making decisions without fearing they may eventually be called to testify under oath.
"Access to White House staff is always a sensitive issue," Bush said. "If the staff of a president operated in constant fear, the president would not receive candid advice and the American people would be ill-served."
While he promised disclosure, he did not admit to any wrongdoing.
"There is no indication that anybody did anything improper," he said.
Bush offers Gonzales his support
He said he appreciated the service of the eight attorneys, and said he regretted their firings "turned into such a public spectacle."
He also said he fully supports Gonzales, who has been bombarded with criticism from Democrats and some Republicans. Some have called for Gonzales's resignation because of his handling of the firings.
"He's got support with me," Bush said of Gonzales. "I support the attorney general. I've heard all these allegations and rumours, and people just need to hear the truth."
Bushtelephoned Gonzales earlier Tuesday to tell him personally that he supports him.
Other Republicans aren't so vocal in their support. Neither of the two most senior Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have stepped forward to endorse him,although they haven't called forhis ouster either.
One of the senators, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he will reserve judgment until he gets all the facts, while the other, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, has not given interviews on the subject.
Bush said he released the 3,000 pages of documents belonging to the Justice Department and White House one day ago. Congressional investigators are now sifting through them.
Some of the e-mails reveal thatthe White House was involved in discussions about the firings, despite the insistence that White House involvement was minimal.
The documents show that White House aide Karl Rove, as early as Jan. 6, 2005, questioned whether the U.S. attorneys should all be replaced at the start of President Bush's second term. Rove worked, to some degree,with former counsel Harriet Miers and former Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson to get some prosecutors dismissed, the documents show.
With files from the Associated Press