WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said yesterday that he intends to subpoena Karl Rove, Harriet E. Miers, and other White House officials involved in the ouster of federal prosecutors, and wants them to testify publicly .
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, delayed a vote last week on the subpoenas until Thursday as the president's counsel, Fred Fielding, sought to negotiate terms. But yesterday, Leahy said he had not met Fielding, nor was he particularly open to any compromises, such as a private briefing by the administration officials.
"I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this," Leahy said on ABC's "This Week." "I do not believe in this 'We'll have a private briefing for you where we'll tell you everything,' and they don't."
The White House was expected to announce early this week whether it will allow Rove, President Bush's top political strategist, and Miers, the former White House counsel, to testify or will seek to assert executive privilege in preventing appearances by them and other officials.
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the committee, said he spoke with Fielding on Friday and was reserving judgment. Specter said on "Fox News Sunday" that he would like to see Rove and Miers testify in public because there were numerous precedents for it.
"I want to see exactly what the White House response is," Specter said. "Maybe the White House will come back and say, 'We'll permit them to be interviewed and we'll give them all the records.' "
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore declined to comment yesterday on whether Rove and Miers would testify. Fielding was taking additional time to review the matter "given the importance of the issues under consideration and the presidential principles involved," she said.
At issue is the firing of eight US attorneys, dismissals that Democrats say were politically motivated. Such prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, but questions have been raised about whether some were removed to influence pending investigations.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales initially had asserted the firings were performance-related, not based on political considerations.
But e-mails released last week between the Justice Department and the White House contradicted that assertion and led to a public apology from Gonzales over the handling of the matter.
The e-mails show that Rove, as early as Jan. 6, 2005, questioned whether the US attorneys should all be replaced at the start of Bush's second term, and to some degree worked with Miers and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's former chief of staff, to get some prosecutors dismissed.
Additional e-mails are expected to be released this week to the Senate and House Judiciary committees.
The Senate committee has approved using subpoenas, if necessary, for Justice Department officials and for J. Scott Jennings, the deputy to White House political director Sara Taylor, who works for Rove.
Lawmakers also are scheduled to question Gonzales Thursday about his agency's budget request in a hearing that is expected to focus in part on the prosecutor scandal.
Several Democrats and a few Republicans, including Senator John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, have called for Gonzales to resign, saying he has lost the support and confidence of Congress and the nation.
Sampson, who resigned last week, released a statement making clear that senior Justice officials were aware that the department and the White House "had been discussing the subject since the election" of 2004. Gonzales has said he was kept in the dark about the communications.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said yesterday that Sampson's lawyer told the committee that the former Gonzales aide wants to testify.
"The stories keep changing from so many people," Schumer said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "A good lawyer will tell you when the witnesses keep changing their stories, they're usually not telling the truth."
Bud Cummins of Arkansas, one of the fired US attorneys, said Gonzales should step down if it is proved that he was involved in the firings.
"They need to go around the room and say, 'Who knew about the bases for these decisions as they went along? Who knew that the White House had this much input, was able to inject this much improper political consideration into these decisions?'
"Because each of those people really don't need to be at the Department of Justice anymore. If he's one of them, then maybe he does need to resign," Cummins said.
Gonzales last week offered a mea culpa to the nation's 93 US attorneys for the way the Justice Department fired eight of their colleagues.
During a conference call Friday, intended to raise morale at the department after the firings and the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act, Gonzales apologized for how the dismissals were handled and for suggesting there were problems with the prosecutors' job performances, according to an official familiar with the conversation.