By James Rowley
July 26 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Democrats sought a special prosecutor to investigate whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to lawmakers and subpoenaed President George W. Bush's top political aide Karl Rove to testify about the firing of U.S. attorneys.
Charges by four Democratic senators that Gonzales repeatedly lied under oath, plus the latest subpoena, raised the stakes in the congressional fight with Bush over his refusal to allow aides to testify about the firing of nine prosecutors last year.
The new allegations against Gonzales came two days after the attorney general appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he faced expressions of incredulity and disdain from senators in both parties about his answers to questions on Bush's surveillance of suspected terrorists.
``The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,'' New York Democrat Charles Schumer told reporters. ``Instead, he tells the half- truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again.''
In a letter to the Justice Department, the senators said a special counsel should ``determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself.'' Besides Schumer, it was signed by Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
The lawmakers said Gonzales's testimony that he never talked to other colleagues about the prosecutor firings after the controversy erupted was contradicted by former aide Monica Goodling. She told Congress in May that she felt ``uncomfortable'' when Gonzales raised the subject.
One of the issues the Democrats want investigated is what was discussed at an administration briefing for congressional leaders on March 10, 2004. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week the subject of the briefing wasn't what has become known as the terrorist surveillance program but other related intelligence activities that he declined to describe.
Members of Congress who attended the 2004 meeting disputed Gonzales's version of events, and the Democratic senators said there is written evidence as well contradicting Gonzales.
Former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey told Congress on May 15 that, when Gonzales was White House counsel in 2004, he pressured Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve an extension of the terrorist surveillance program.
In his testimony two days ago, Gonzales said he visited Ashcroft's hospital room hours after briefing the lawmakers to seek his approval to extend an intelligence operation.
White House and Justice Department officials said Gonzales stands by his testimony. ``The attorney general was speaking consistently,'' White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters today. ``The president supports him.''
The Senate Democrats asked Solicitor General Paul Clement to name a special counsel. Clement is acting attorney general in matters in which Gonzales has recused himself, including the firing of the federal prosecutors.
There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department about the senators' request.
The subpoenas today for Rove and J. Scott Jennings, the deputy White House political director, are part of the congressional investigation into whether the White House orchestrated the dismissals for improper political purposes such as to spur investigations of Democrats.
Bush has asserted executive privilege to bar his aides from testifying about the dismissals. A House panel also investigating the firings cited Bush's chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers for contempt of Congress for their refusal to cooperate.
``I would hope the White House would stop the stonewalling,'' Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a floor speech announcing the subpoenas. ``There is a cloud over this White House and a gathering storm.''
Bush spokesman Tony Fratto said Leahy is ``more interested in headlines'' than in reaching accommodation with the White House and passing spending bills and other legislation. ``Every day this Congress gets a little more out of control,'' Fratto said.