White House Expected to Block Aide from Testifying

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White House Expected to Block Aide from Testifying

Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON - The attorney for a former White House aide told Congress on Saturday he expects the Bush administration to try to block the aide from testifying on last year's firings of U.S. prosecutors, as the White House and Congress appeared headed for a court battle.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney for former White House political aide Sara Taylor said she would be happy to testify, but she expects a letter from the White House directing her not to do so.0708 02

"In our view, it is unfair to Ms. Taylor that this constitutional struggle might be played out with her as the object of an unseemly tug of war," attorney W. Neil Eggleston wrote in a letter to the committee and to White House counsel Fred Fielding.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who released a letter, said Taylor's testimony was important to the committee's investigation of the firing last year of nine of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys.

The Vermont Democrat said in a statement it was "unfortunate that the White House is trying to interfere with Ms. Taylor's testimony before the Senate and with Congress' responsibility to get to the truth behind the unprecedented firings of several U.S. attorneys."

He urged the White House to stop "this stonewalling" and accept the committee's offer "to negotiate a workable solution to the Committee's oversight requests."

President George W. Bush last month refused to comply with subpoenas for documents from Taylor and former presidential counsel Harriet Miers, and made clear they would not testify as requested by Leahy's panel and the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

In refusing to comply with subpoenas, the president asserted "executive privilege," meaning he thought Congress had overstepped its constitutional bounds -- thus setting up a court battle over whether he can refuse Congress' demands.

Lawmakers have given the White House until Monday to provide a legal basis for its privilege claims, but have left open the possibility of a court challenge.

Eggleston asked that any congressional sanctions be directed at the White House, not Taylor, because his 32-year-old client faced "two untenable choices,"

"She can follow the president's direction and face the possibility of a contempt sanction by the Senate, with enforcement through the criminal courts, an action that regardless of outcome, will follow her for life," he said.

Or she could try to accommodate the Senate, which would "put her at odds with the President, a person whom she admires and for whom she has worked tirelessly for years," he wrote.

Leahy said Taylor's testimony was key to the probe of the U.S. attorney's firings.

"There is clear evidence that Ms. Taylor was one of several White House officials who played a key role in these firings and the Administration's response to cover up the reasons behind them when questions first arose," Leahy said.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.

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