Friday, April 06, 2007

Standoff Over DOJ Documents

The Justice Department is refusing to release hundreds of pages of additional documents related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, setting up a fresh clash with Capitol Hill in a controversy that continues to threaten Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's hold on his position.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, whose investigators have been allowed to view, but not obtain copies of, the records in question, is preparing subpoenas for those papers as well as for all e-mails or documents from the Justice Department and the White House connected to the dismissals of the prosecutors.

The new sparring comes as Senate Democrats postponed a long-planned budgetary appearance by Gonzales that had been scheduled for next week. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee panel overseeing the Justice Department budget, blamed Gonzales's "leadership failures" yesterday for the postponement and demanded that the prosecutor controversy be settled before he makes his plea for a budget increase. ...

The move to call off the budget hearing makes Gonzales's scheduled April 17 appearance before the judiciary panel even more of a make-or-break moment for Gonzales. ...

(T)rust in Gonzales among Capitol Hill Democrats has evaporated amid revelations from the almost 4,000 pages of documents the Justice Department has released to date, some of which have contradicted a string of statements from the attorney general about the dismissals. ...

Senate Democrats now want all Justice Department documents related to the firings, including the previously unreleased ones deemed too sensitive for release by the agency. Democratic investigators were upset to learn about the additional batch of records in recent visits to the department, according to a Senate aide who requested anonymity to talk freely about the standoff.

The aide said the Senate Judiciary Committee "has lodged objections several times" about not being given the new documents. They were discovered over the past two weeks as staff investigators for the House and Senate judiciary panels, working in a special office inside the Justice Department, reviewed the censored portions of e-mails and other records that had already been sent to Capitol Hill in redacted form, according to Justice Department and Senate aides.

Under an earlier agreement between Congress and the department, congressional aides are allowed to examine the uncensored documents but not to make copies or to take any notes.

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