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Schumer Pushes for Rove Testimony

Escalating the battle between the Bush administration and Senate Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday demanded that senior White House adviser Karl Rove testify before the Judiciary Committee about the controversial firings of at least eight U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department.

Schumer asked the Judiciary Committee to request Rove’s presence based on newspaper accounts over the weekend reporting that Rove served as a conduit for complaints about fired prosecutors to the White House counsel’s office and the Justice Department.

If Rove does not agree to voluntarily come forward, the New York Democrat is expected to ask the committee to subpoena him, aides said.

“The more we learn, the more it seems that people at high levels in the White House have been involved in the U.S. Attorney purge,” Schumer said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore replied: “If we receive such a request, we would consider it in the ordinary course and respond appropriately.”

Schumer’s allegations come on the heels of reports published over the weekend by McClatchy Newspapers that Rove passed along complaints — specifically about fired New Mexico prosecutor David Iglesias — to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers and perhaps Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

One of those complaints came from New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh, who told McClatchy that he spoke directly with Rove about removing Iglesias.

Iglesias charged in Congressional hearings last week that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) pressured him about an ongoing corruption investigation into local Democrats in two separate phone calls in October 2006. He believes their dissatisfaction with his performance is responsible for his ouster.

Weh told McClatchy that he spoke with Rove personally at a holiday party in 2006 about getting rid of Iglesias.

“Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?” Weh recalled asking Rove.

According to the report, Rove replied: “He’s gone.”

“I probably said something close to ‘Hallelujah,’” Weh said.

That was not the first time Weh had contacted White House officials about Iglesias. Weh also explained that he complained to a Rove aide about Iglesias in 2005.

“There’s nothing we’ve done that’s wrong,” Weh said. “It wasn’t that Iglesias wasn’t looking out for Republicans. He just wasn’t doing his job, period.”

So far, the battle over the U.S. attorneys issue has been confined to a struggle between Congressional Democrats and the Justice Department. While Justice argues the U.S. attorneys were fired for merit-based reasons, Democrats allege they were dumped for political ones and perhaps under pressure from Republican lawmakers and officials.

Democrats have been seeking to bring the White House into the fray, pointing to allegations that former White House counsel Miers orchestrated the firing of ex-U.S. attorney for Eastern Arkansas Bud Cummins III so he could be replaced by a former Rove aide, Timothy Griffin.

The House Judiciary Committee sent letters last week to Miers and current White House counsel Fred Fielding asking for information on the matter.

The White House maintains, however, that while it knew about the firings of the prosecutors, the Justice Department made the decisions.

“The Justice Department did, as with any agency that wants to make a change in a political appointee status, let the White House know that they were thinking of making a change,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said last week.

“We did not disagree with their recommendations, and the Justice Department moved forward to implement their plan.”

The Justice Department on Monday acknowledged receiving complaints from the White House about Iglesias from various sources.

“These concerns about U.S. Attorney Iglesias were passed to [Justice] from the White House counsel’s office and were very similar to concerns that had already been raised with [Justice] by Sen. Domenici in his calls with the attorney general and deputy attorney general,” Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Monday.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are still trying to work out the details of when and how five senior Justice Department officials will be interviewed by the committee.

“We’re still working on the format and the venue,” said one Senate Democratic aide.

The officials include: Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ chief of staff; Monica Goodling, Gonzales’ counsel and the department’s White House liaison; Bill Mercer, the acting associate attorney general and the No. 3 official in the department; Mike Battle, the outgoing director of Justice’s executive office of U.S. attorneys; and Mike Elston, the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general.

Senate Democrats are working to bring to the floor legislation sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) that would reverse an amendment to the USA PATRIOT Act that allowed the U.S. attorney general to indefinitely appoint interim prosecutors.

The legislation would give the attorney general temporary authority to make the appointment for 120 days and then transfer that power to a district court judge until a permanent appointment is made.

As of Monday evening, it was unclear whether there would be any serious Republican opposition to Feinstein’s bill.

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