White House Offers Interview With Rove, But Not Under Oath



The White House offered Tuesday to make political strategist Karl Rove and former counsel Harriet Miers available for interviews - but not testimony under oath - before congressional committees investigating the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said he would still press for White House aides to testify under oath, saying that White House counsel Fred Fielding "indicated he didn't want to negotiate" whether Rove and others would have to appear in a full hearing. "That doesn't mean we're not going to try," Schumer said.

The White House move was announced after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the Bush administration's ability to unilaterally fill U.S. attorney vacancies. That had come as a backlash to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' firing of the prosecutors.

Gonzales got a morale boost with an early-morning call from President Bush, their first conversation since a week ago, when the president said he was unhappy with how the Justice Department handled the firings.

The White House offered to arrange interviews with Rove, Miers, deputy White House counsel William Kelley and J. Scott Jennings, a deputy to White House political director Sara Taylor, who works for Rove.

"Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony, or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas," Fielding said in a letter to the chairman of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

In the letter, Fielding said the more than 3,000 documents released by the Justice Department "do not reflect that any U.S. attorney was replaced to interfere with a pending or future criminal investigation or for any other improper reason."

Schumer, however, had problems with it.

"It's sort of giving us the opportunity to talk to them but not giving us the opportunity to figure out what really happened here," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the White House said Bush planned a statement late Tuesday afternoon upon his return from a trip to Kansas City.

The fast-moving developments came as the administration sought to fend off withering Democratic attacks from Capitol Hill in connection with the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors. Democrats have asserted the U.S. attorneys were improperly ousted.

Bush has said that he was not happy with the way the Justice Department explained the firings to Congress, but has said they were, indeed, appropriate.

The White House offer came not long after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that strips from the administration its authority to unilaterally name federal prosecutors.

In his letter, Fielding said the White House was willing to provide lawmakers with wide access.

"These documents, together with the interviews to be provided by department officials, will provide extensive background on the decisions in question, including an account of communications between the department and senior White House officials," he wrote. "Congress, in short, is receiving a virtually unprecedented window into personnel decision-making within the executive branch."

Fielding also said that in addition to interviews the White House will provide documents on communications between the White House and the Department of Justice concerning the request for resignations of the U.S. attorneys and between White House staff and members of Congress, their aides and others.