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Bush invokes executive privilege against probe
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11:11, July 10, 2007

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US President George W. Bush invoked executive privilege yesterday to deny requests by Congress for testimony from two former aides about the firings of US prosecutors.

The latest power fight between the legislative and executive branches of the US government came as members of Congress returned from a holiday recess. An atmosphere of high tension accompanied the resumption of work as a fight also loomed between majority Democrats and some key Republicans and Bush over his Iraq War policy.

Indicating its flexibility, the White House, however, did offer again to make the aides, former counsel Harriet Miers and one-time political director Sara Taylor, available for private, off-the-record interviews concerning the firings, which Democrats say were politically motivated.

In a letter to the heads of the House and Senate Judiciary panels, White House counsel Fred Fielding insisted that Bush was acting in good faith and refused lawmakers' demand that the president explain the basis for invoking the privilege.

"You may be assured that the president's assertion here comports with prior practices in similar contexts, and that it has been appropriately documented," the letter said.

Retorted House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers: "Contrary what the White House may believe, it is the Congress and the courts that will decide whether an invocation of executive privilege is valid, not the White House unilaterally," the Democratic lawmaker said in a statement.

The exchange yesterday was the latest step in a slow-motion legal waltz between the White House and lawmakers toward eventual contempt-of-Congress citations. If neither side yields, the matter could land in court.

In his letter regarding subpoenas the Judiciary panels issued, Fielding said, "The president feels compelled to assert executive privilege with respect to the testimony sought from Sara M. Taylor and Harriet E. Miers."

US presidents have used executive privilege to withhold information from Congress, arguing that aides will not give them candid advice if they know they might be called before Congress to testify on what they told the president.

Fielding was responding to a deadline set by the Democratic chairmen, Patrick Leahy and Conyers, for the White House to explain its privilege claim, prove that the president personally invoked it and provide logs of which documents were being withheld.

As expected, Fielding refused to comply. He said he was acting at Bush's direction, and he complained that the committees had decided to enforce the subpoenas whether or not the White House complied.

Source: China Daily/agencies

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