WASHINGTON – Thesubpoenaed new documents Tuesday from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as part of its investigation into the firings of federal prosecutors, with the panel chairman saying he had run out of patience.
“We have been patient in allowing the department to work through its concerns regarding the sensitive nature of some of these materials,” Rep. John Conyers (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., wrote Gonzales in a letter accompanying the subpoena. “Unfortunately, the department has not indicated any meaningful willingness to find a way to meet our legitimate needs.,”
“At this point further delay in receiving these materials will not serve any constructive purpose,” Conyers said. He characterized the subpoena as a last resort after weeks of negotiations with Justice over documents and e-mails the committee wants.
The Justice Department did not have an immediate comment.
But one Justice official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the House request included the full text of all documents that had been partially or completely blacked out in the Justice Department’s initial release of more than 3,000 pages last month. The Justice official said some U.S. attorney evaluations were included in these documents.
The official said the request also included an unredacted list ranking the performance and standing of each of the 93 U.S. attorneys. Government officials have previously confirmed that Chicago-based prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, one of the Justice Department’s premier U.S. attorneys, was ranked as “not distinguished.”
Democrats who control Congress say statements by Gonzales and his lieutenants, three of whom have resigned in the aftermath of the dismissals, have raised questions over whether the ousters were politically motivated.
The Justice Department denies that and
President Bush has stood behind Gonzales, but calls for a new attorney general have continued. Gonzales, Bush’s longtime friend, is scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.
Along with the subpoenas, Conyers released letters of negotiation between his committee and the Justice Department dating to March 8, when the panel’s Democrats requested follow-up interviews with Gonzales’ top aides and any documents between the agency and the White House about the firings.
The Justice Department responded by releasing more than 3,000 documents, including internal communications between agency officials, White House aides and some of the fired prosecutors. But substantial portions of the documents released were blacked out, or redacted.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling wrote that the agency blocked information that raised privacy concerns, including the names of prosecutors who were considered for removal but ultimately retained, as well as candidates for judicial appointments.
“We are seeking to preserve the privacy and professional viability of those who are continuing to serve,” Hertling wrote.