Congress Wants Ashcroft’s Testimony

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Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, come on down.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are asking former attorney general John Ashcroft to testify about a March 2004 hospital-room confrontation during which he refused to sign off on a continuation of President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program, according to congressional and administration sources.

The sources, who asked not to identified talking about sensitive matters, said the Senate Intelligence Committee has tentatively scheduled a closed-door hearing for later this month. The panel plans to question Ashcroft, his former chief of staff David Ayres and former deputy attorney general James Comey about a heated dispute with the White House that roiled the Justice Department three years ago. The House committee is also planning a separate closed-door hearing with Ashcroft, according to a spokeswoman for Ashcroft.

The requests for Ashcroft’s testimony reflect the mounting frustration on the part of committee leaders in both chambers who feel they have been denied vital information about the wiretapping issue by the Bush administration. Despite having received numerous private briefings from senior administration officials over the last year, members were stunned to learn just how deeply troubled the Justice Department was about aspects of the program — a glimpse they got only when Comey publicly testified about the program at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month.

Might Ashcroft be willing to accept this invitation? His spokesperson said he is out of town and is unavailable to discuss the matter until next week.

Newsweek added that there will be a meeting on Monday between Senate Intelligence Committee aides and Justice Department officials to discuss the “contours” of the testimony. If Ashcroft declined to cooperate, “the committees could ultimately issue subpoenas.”

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