WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has invoked executive privilege to keep President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, from having to testify Thursday about the firings of at least eight U.S. attorneys.
The White House invoked executive privilege to keep Karl Rove from having to testify Thursday.
Rove, "as an immediate adviser to the president," can't be ordered to testify and has been told not to appear, White House Counsel Fred Fielding told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The committee called Rove and his deputy, Scott Jennings, to testify Thursday morning.
The White House says it is trying to protect the president's ability to receive candid advice and offered to let top aides discuss the firings only if they were not placed under oath and no transcript was taken.
"It is regretted that the committee has forced this action, as the president's offer of accommodation to you and to the House Judiciary Committee could have provided information being sought in a manner respectful of presidential prerogatives and consistent with a spirit of comity," Fielding wrote.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, accused the White House of trying to cover up Rove's role in the firings. He questioned why Rove discussed the matter publicly when the issue first made news, but now "is suddenly unable to talk it about when he is under oath."
"Mr. Rove has given reasons for the firings that have now been shown to be inaccurate, after-the-fact fabrications," Leahy said in a statement issued Wednesday evening. "Yet he now refuses to tell this committee the truth about his role in targeting well-respected U.S. attorneys for firing and in seeking to cover up his role and that of his staff in the scandal."
Mark Paoletta, a lawyer for Jennings, told CNN his client will appear before the Judiciary Committee but would refuse to answer questions he feels are covered by executive privilege. Former White House political director Sara Taylor testified under similar circumstances in July.
The White House already has invoked executive privilege to block previous testimony by Taylor and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who skipped a hearing in the House two weeks ago, and to keep Chief of Staff Josh Bolten from turning over documents subpoenaed as part of the inquiry.
The panel voted to cite Miers and Bolten for contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas. The decision on whether to pursue any action on those citations lies with the Justice Department.
The privilege claim can be challenged in court. But Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has said the courts would be unlikely to resolve any challenge before Bush leaves office.
Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed the congressional investigation of the attorney firings as a "witch hunt" during a CNN interview Tuesday. Democratic congressional leaders, however, say administration officials have been unable to answer their most basic questions -- who compiled the list of prosecutors to be dismissed, and why were they selected?
While the Bush administration has maintained that the prosecutors' firings were handled properly, the controversy has led to the resignations of at least three top Justice Department officials and triggered widespread criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who repeatedly told a Senate committee in April that he did not recall details of the firings.
Critics say the attorneys were forced out for political reasons, such as for failing to bring voter fraud cases pushed by Republican activists, and administration officials have acknowledged that one was fired to allow a Rove protege to take a post in Arkansas. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.