Congress ratcheted up the pressure today in the controversy surrounding the firing of several U.S. attorneys by sending subpoenas to two former high-ranking White House officials and a separate subpoena for documents to the White House chief of staff.
Under the subpoenas, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor, a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove, will testify before Congress in mid-July about their roles in the attorney firings.
The action virtually assures a legal showdown between Democratic leaders in Congress and the Bush administration over revealing the White House's role in the controversy. Democrats claim that some of the federal prosecutors were fired for improper political reasons. The White House has resisted releasing information about its internal deliberations.
Taylor's lawyer, Neil Eggleston, said, "Ms. Taylor takes her responsibilities as a citizen very seriously, and she is hopeful the White House and the Congress are quickly able to work out an appropriate agreement on her cooperation with the Senate's proceedings."
Congressional leaders expressed mounting frustration with the White House on the issue.
"The bread crumbs in this investigation have always led to 1600 Pennsylvania," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said in a statement. "This investigation will not end until the White House complies with the demands of this subpoena in a timely and reasonable manner so that we may get to the bottom of this."
Should the White House choose to claim executive privilege over the testimony of the former administration aides, it would have to send a representative to the hearing. In a subpoena sent to White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, Congress also asked for documents to be returned to the committee by June 28.
The subpoenas come on the heels of the Justice Department's release Tuesday night of more e-mails and internal documents.
Those latest e-mails and documents show more communication between the White House and the Justice Department on the firings of the eight federal prosecutors. Numerous e-mails show communications between Miers and Rove's deputies, as well as political aides Scott Jennings and Taylor.
Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the matter earlier this spring.
Last week Fred Fielding, counsel to the president, wrote Conyers and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to say the White House had "made efforts to resolve our differences" in a "mutually acceptable fashion" that would have avoided subpoenas.
Fielding reiterated his offer to have White House officials made available to Congress for informal interviews on the matter.
"We are not aware that any witness or document has provided any evidence supportive of the notion that any U.S. attorney was asked to resign in order to interfere with a pending or future criminal investigation," wrote Fielding.
Of Miers' and Taylor's subpoenas, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "We are aware of the Judiciary Committee's plans to issue subpoenas. We will respond appropriately."