Administration, panel eye compromise in Tillman case

Committee wants to know when the White House and senior Defense officials learned the circumstances of Tillman's death and whether they withheld information from public.

The White House and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee apparently have worked out a compromise that will allow congressional investigators to interview former White House aides as part of a probe to determine whether the White House misled the public about the friendly fire death in Afghanistan of Cpl. Patrick Tillman, a former professional football player.

In a letter Friday to House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., the White House agreed to allow untranscribed interviews with former presidential counselor Dan Bartlett, former press secretary Scott McClellan and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson.

What sets this agreement apart from similar agreements that the committee rejected in connection with an investigation of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys late last year is that the agreement does not preclude Waxman and Davis from issuing subpoenas to question the former aides at a later date.

According to the letter, which was reviewed by CongressDaily, the committee reserves the right to seek further testimony, while President Bush reserves his right to prevent such testimony by invoking executive privilege. In addition, the White House has agreed to allow the committee to conduct transcribed interviews with two lower-ranking former officials, John Currin and Taylor Gross.

Waxman's panel is seeking to determine when the White House and senior Defense Department officials learned the circumstances of Tillman's death and whether they withheld the information from the public. The military had initially claimed Tillman was killed by enemy fire.

In the U.S. attorneys case, Bush invoked executive privilege to bar former and current White House aides from testifying. In a letter Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Bush for a meeting to discuss the impasse. The letter accused the White House of "stonewalling" and said Leahy was considering contempt of Congress citations for White House officials who have refused to testify.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto on Wednesday dismissed the letter as a publicity stunt, calling it "replete with invective" and criticizing Leahy's decision to release the letter "rather than contacting the White House in a quiet way."

In July, the House Judiciary Committee approved contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers for ignoring subpoenas from the panel.