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Congress girds up for return to oversight

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Last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California, who chairs this committee, called on the Republican National Committee to provide by April 18 copies of any e-mails sent or received by presidential adviser Karl Rove or any other White House official concerning the use of federal agencies or resources to help Republican candidates in the 2008 election. Mr. Waxman wants to know, in particular, why a White House aide briefed political appointees at the General Services Administration (GSA) about the GOP's top Democratic targets in state and local elections. He cites reports that after the briefing, GOP political appointees discussed how to use the GSA to help "our candidates" in '08. The GSA is responsible for US government facilities in every congressional district.

In addition to the furious pace of investigatory hearings, the new Congress is also beefing up its oversight capabilities. In January, House Democrats created four new subcommittees whose mandate is oversight. They include the Oversight and Investigations panel within the House Armed Services Committee, which Republicans had abolished, as well as new oversight subcommittees within the Appropriations, Science and Technology, and Small Business committees.

Individual lawmakers, too, are hiring more investigators on their personal staffs. Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, just hired three top investigators, aides say.

The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has asked for approval to hire outside investigative attorneys to expand its capacity to review documents related to the prosecutor dismissals. Commenting on this request, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel says President Bush "opposes using $275,000 of taxpayers' money to increase the number of lawyers who can go on investigative searches and fishing expeditions."

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