Lawmaker Threatens Subpoenas for Aides

lawmaker.jpgBy Carrie Johnson | The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee threatened yesterday to subpoena Bush administration officials who have refused to appear at a hearing on torture and interrogation policies.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he would “have no choice but to consider compulsory process” if current and former officials, including vice presidential chief of staff David S. Addington, reject the panel’s requests for testimony next week.

Former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and John C. Yoo, a former Office of Legal Counsel deputy have rebuffed the committee’s request. Yoo cited Justice Department instructions that he not discuss the “deliberative communications” he had with other administration officials.

Their refusal marks the latest skirmish in a lengthy battle over the scope of presidential authority and the administration’s treatment of detainees. Under Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and his predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales, the Justice Department has refused to enforce congressional subpoenas for testimony.

Addington, the top aide to Vice President Cheney, played a critical role in developing and drafting anti-terrorism strategies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and drafted several key memos on detainee policy. But in response to the committee’s request, his lawyer suggested lawmakers instead contact aides to President Bush.

“The chief of staff to the vice president is an employee of the vice president, and therefore is not in a position to speak on behalf of the president,” wrote Kathryn L. Wheelbarger, counsel to the vice president, in an April 18 letter made public yesterday.

Addington is asserting “legalistic and argumentative” claims about his immunity from congressional oversight, Conyers said.

Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote several controversial memos underpinning the administration’s use of coercive interrogation techniques. His lawyer said in a letter that Yoo’s testimony would present “difficult issues of executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.”

Ashcroft left the Justice Department in 2005 and now leads a lobby and consulting firm. He cited in his refusal to testify his workload and the likelihood that Congress would ask questions that would breach attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. Ashcroft and Yoo also noted they are defendants in lawsuits filed by civil liberties groups over the administration’s national security policies.