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Leahy, Conyers Reject White House Claim of Executive Privilege

Congressional Democrats on Friday rejected the White House assertion of executive privilege over documents and testimony relating to the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, and set a July 9 deadline for the administration to provide a more satisfying response.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding had responded Thursday to several subpoenas issued by the House and Senate Judiciary committees with a blanket assertion of executive privilege, stating that “the White House will not be making any production in response to these subpoenas.” Fielding argued that the documents and testimony the committees are seeking consist of internal White House deliberations, which have traditionally been protected by prior administrations, and that the subject matter — hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys — is not within the jurisdiction of Congressional oversight.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and his House counterpart Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) issued a strongly worded letter to Fielding, renewing their demand for the documents and testimony, and arguing that Fielding had not followed the proper procedures for asserting executive privilege.

The two chairmen demanded that if the White House intends to assert a privilege over any documents, it must submit a log of those documents and a legal rationale for withholding each one, along with a signed letter from the President asserting his rights.

“You have until July 9, 2007 at 10 a.m. to bring this and any other information you wish to submit to our attention before we move to proceedings to rule on your claims and consider whether the White House is in contempt of Congress,” they wrote.

The Republican ranking members of the Judiciary committees — Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) — were copied on the Leahy/Conyers letter, but did not sign, and their offices did not immediately provide comment on the dispute. Specter said Thursday he hoped there was still a way to negotiate a deal with the White House that would allow the committees to get the information they needed to wind up their investigation, without getting into contempt proceedings.

— Paul Singer