Subpoenas portend White House showdown

Washington — Washington -- Congressional Democrats authorized five subpoenas yesterday in their drive to step up oversight of the Bush administration, a move likely to heighten tensions between the majority party on Capitol Hill and the White House.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved a subpoena to compel Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about the administration's disputed prewar claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium.


And the committee authorized subpoenas directing the Republican National Committee to turn over information in an investigation of whether administration officials used the political committee's e-mail to conduct government business.

A House panel also moved to force the testimony of Monica Goodling, a former Justice Department liaison to the White House and a pivotal figure in an investigation into the U.S. attorneys firings.


The action came as a top Democrat said the Bush administration has politicized the executive branch.

"Not since the days of Watergate, when our judicial system and intelligence community were deployed by the White House in the service of partisan politics, have we seen such, in my view, abuses," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

A White House spokeswoman called the attack an effort to divert attention from the House Democrats' failure to get any of the bills from their first 100-hours agenda enacted into law.

The subpoenas drew sharp criticism from Republicans.

"This is just politics," said Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, top Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He accused committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman of using subpoenas to get high-profile administration figures under oath "for the sake of political theatrics."

Waxman said he has repeatedly tried to learn from Rice what she knew about the assertion Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger.

"My goal is to conduct investigations without subpoenas. But if we are stonewalled, we can't hesitate to use the power we have," the California Democrat said.

Davis also said questions about faulty prewar intelligence have been repeatedly "asked and answered," holding up several thick reports. "So what's left to investigate?"


The subpoena to the RNC directed the committee to produce information about the use of its e-mail accounts by White House officials. A separate subpoena was authorized to call RNC Chairman Mike Duncan to appear before the committee May 8.

Waxman is investigating whether administration officials - including the president's chief political strategist, Karl Rove - attempted to circumvent the Presidential Records Act, a post-Watergate law designed to preserve White House records, by using RNC e-mail accounts to conduct government business.

The RNC accused Democrats of trying to get hold of the party's political playbook.

The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, agreed to seek immunity from prosecution for Goodling, a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, and authorized Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan to subpoena her testimony.

Goodling has vowed to assert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify before congressional committees. Her lawyer, John Dowd, had no comment on the judiciary panel's action.

House lawyers still must obtain a court order granting her immunity from prosecution, a process that could take several weeks. Under that procedure, the Justice Department is given an opportunity to say whether the grant of immunity would interfere with any pending criminal investigation.


Richard Simon and Richard B. Schmitt write for the Los Angeles Times.