WASHINGTON—A congressional investigation into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys reached into the White House on Friday, with Democrats saying that they'll call in President Bush's former counsel Harriet Miers and other unidentified White House officials for interviews with the House Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers have been asking whether the federal prosecutors' offices have become tainted by partisan politics. Until Friday, the official inquiry had ended with the Justice Department.
The decision to extend the inquiry to Bush's inner circle suggests that lawmakers believe there may have been some level of coordination of the firings from inside the White House last December.
Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., chairwoman of the subcommittee directing the inquiry, sent a letter Friday to Miers, a longtime Bush loyalist who left her post in January, requesting that she submit to an interview.
They also sent a letter to Miers' replacement, Fred Fielding. That letter asks that deputy counsel William Kelly and other White House officials yet to be named also agree to interviews.
The committee also is seeking all e-mails and paperwork between the White House and the Justice Department or any members of Congress related to the investigation.
"Until we get a clear and credible answer from the Bush administration on who made the decision to fire these U.S. attorneys and why they did it, we will continue our investigation," Conyers said in a statement.
Said Sanchez: "The threshold for cooperation in Washington used to be `Trust, but verify.' We are sending these letters today because, at this point, we'd be happy just to verify."
A spokeswoman said the White House was reviewing the requests and would have no immediate comment. Miers couldn't be reached for comment.
Six of the ousted U.S. attorneys have testified this week before House and Senate committees about political interference in investigations, cronyism and the lack of an explanation for their sudden firings following the November elections.
The ex-prosecutors were all Bush appointees and received high performance reviews, but several had investigated Republicans for corruption or chose not to charge Democrats who were accused of corruption.
Past administrations have replaced U.S. attorneys when they took power. Top prosecutors are rarely fired mid-term except for malfeasance.
The former U.S. attorneys who testified were David Iglesias of New Mexico; John McKay of Seattle; Carol Lam of San Diego, Calif.; H.E. "Bud" Cummins of Little Rock, Ark.; Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas; and Paul Charlton of Arizona.
Months before the attorneys' removals last December, the Bush administration requested and got Congress to add a provision to the anti-terrorism Patriot Act that made it easier for the administration to fill interim U.S. attorney vacancies without having to get Senate confirmation.
Democrats began raising questions two months ago when they discovered the consequences of the Patriot Act changes. In one case, in Arkansas, an ousted prosecutor was replaced by an attorney who had worked for White House political strategist Karl Rove as an opposition researcher.
The controversy over the firings heightened last month after Iglesias told McClatchy Newspapers that two members of Congress called him in mid-October to pressure him to complete a corruption investigation of several Democrats before the November elections.
Iglesias, who stepped down last week, added that he believed he was fired because he didn't speed up the case.
Justice Department officials have defended the firings of the U.S. attorneys as administrative decisions meant to improve the workings of the attorneys' offices.
Gonzales acknowledged Friday at a public event that "there were things that were done in connection with these decisions that could have been and should have been done better."
"One thing that we could have done and should have done, obviously, is in speaking with these U.S. attorneys to make sure they understood the reasons why the decision was made," he said.
However, Gonzales dismissed the more serious allegations of political interference in prosecutions. "I want to reassure the American people that we in no way have made decisions to politicize these offices," he said.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Ron Hutcheson contributed to this report.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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