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Renner: Waxman Provides Precedent for Subpoenas

Waxman Provides Precedent for Subpoenas

By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 22 March 2007

In a letter late Wednesday, Rep. Henry Waxman presented numerous instances in which subpoenas were used by Congress to compel the testimony of presidential staff in former administrations.

White House Spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that the demand for sworn testimony from presidential advisers is "unprecedented" and "highly unusual in any White House."

However, in his letter, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) described this statement as "misinformed." The letter outlines notable subpoenas of Clinton administration officials, and summarizes a report compiled by Waxman and his staff which details the extensive investigation of the Clinton White House by a then Republican-controlled Congress. According to the report, from 1997 to 2002, under Republican Chairman Dan Burton, the House Oversight Committee issued 1,052 subpoenas targeting Democratic Party or Clinton administration officials.

This letter also describes cooperation by subpoenaed Clinton administration officials serving in the same capacity as former White House council Harriet Miers and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, two of the Bush administration officials currently in the Democrats' sights. According to the report, "141 individuals who worked in the Clinton administration, including top advisers to the president, spent 568 hours in deposition before the [Oversight] committee staff." This included three White House chiefs of staff and four counsels to the president, along with other top administration officials.

In a press conference Tuesday, President Bush said "we've made an unprecedented number of documents available," referring to the 3,000+ pages of email correspondences released by the Department of Justice. Waxman points out that over two million pages of internal documents were turned over to Congress during the investigations into the Clinton administration.

Waxman's letter points out that the Bush administration has allowed its staff to testify under oath and in public as recently as last week. "This past Monday, the White House allowed both the current chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the former chief of staff of CEQ to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.... And last Friday, the director of the office of security for the White House appeared before the House Committee...." Both instances from hearings this week specifically addressed communications between White House aids.

The battle over the ability of Congress to force Bush administration officials to testify under oath and in public will determine how deeply Democrats are able to dig during their investigations into possible wrongdoings of Republicans since the Bush administration took power.

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy has been the most vocal on the subpoena issue. After negotiations with an administration official Tuesday, Leahy rejected the president's attempt to stave off subpoenas by agreeing to private meetings with administration officials and members of Congress. Leahy said, "I donít accept his offer. It is not constructive and it is not helpful to be telling the Senate how to do our investigation, or to prejudge its outcome.... [T]estimony should be on the record, and under oath." This morning, Leahy characterized Bush's offer of interviews behind closed doors and not under oath: "That, to me, is nothing." Also this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized Chairman Leahy to issue subpoenas for administration officials. At the time of this writing, no subpoenas have yet been issued. A spokesman in Leahy's office told Truthout that subpoenas would not be issued today.

President Bush claims that he will fight against any subpoenas and take this matter to court.

With Democrats on the war path and the Bush administration backed into a corner after losing control of both houses of Congress, the US government has reached an impasse. If Bush allows his staff members to testify regarding the firings of eight US attorneys, he will open his administration up to subpoenas on multiple fronts. With powerful Democrats demanding on-the-record testimony, and an embattled president well known for his intransigence, this battle will be bloody.

---> Waxman's letter and report can be viewed here & here <---


Matt Renner is a reporter for truthout and can be reached by email at

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