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Bid to punish Bush aides may fail

The House and Senate have escalated efforts in the US attorneys case, but the White House may delay a resolution.

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Congress is running out of time – but not options – in a standoff with the Bush White House over executive privilege.

In a rare move, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines this week to cite two top presidential aides with criminal contempt. And in an escalation of the standoff, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday issued subpoenas to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and his deputy, J. Scott Jennings, to also testify under oath and provide documents on the firings of nine US attorneys last year.

The moves are part of an ongoing congressional probe into whether improper political influence was the motive for the firings.

"There is a cloud over this White House and a gathering storm," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I hope they will reconsider their course and end their coverup so that we can move forward together to repair the damage done to the Department of Justice and to the American people's trust and confidence in federal law enforcement," he said. The Senate has given the White House a deadline of Aug. 2 to respond.

Barring a compromise, the next move on the House side is a vote of the full House, likely after the August recess.

At issue is whether Congress can compel the president to allow top aides to answer questions under oath. The House Judiciary panel issued subpoenas for White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to answer questions about last year's US attorney firings.

Responding to a similar probe on the Senate side, the president has offered to allow Mr. Rove and other officials to answer questions not under oath and without an official transcript. Responding to the new subpoenas on Thursday, deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto urged Congress to accept the president's accommodation. "Every day this Congress gets a little more out of control," he said.

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