Congress Tests US Atty Taylor's Mettle

For months, controversy has been swirling over the alleged politicization by the administration of President George W. Bush of the nation’s federal prosecutors. Now a high-profile case has arisen that may provide a litmus test of the extent to which that has occurred.

Congress is calling for current and former White House officials to be held in contempt for ignoring subpoenas to appear and/or testify. But a U.S. attorney must actually bring those contempt charges, points out the Los Angeles Times. That prosecutor, for Washington, D.C., is Jeffrey A. Taylor.

“The White House and Justice Department are sending strong signals that they will bar anyone from prosecuting such a case,” the Times reports. “Despite a federal statute referring to the U.S. attorney’s duty to take contempt cases to the grand jury, they believe it would be impermissible under the law, and violate the doctrine of separation of powers under the Constitution.”

Observers are waiting to see how Taylor, 42, will handle the situation. A Republican, he has served as a top aide to both U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft. But he also referred investigators to an apparent White House attempt to prevent the hiring of a Howard University law graduate described by Gonzales senior aide Monica Goodling as a “liberal Democrat.” Taylor eventually hired him, too.

At least arguably, it may be necessary for Taylor to step aside and let another prosecutor deal with the prosecutorial hot potato created by the current contempt-of-Congress controversy. “Some legal experts think Taylor might have to disqualify himself from participating in a contempt-of-Congress investigation,” the Times writes, “because of his close ties to the administration.”

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