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THE NATION

White House counsel adds staff for inquiries

June 09, 2007|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, who was hired to help President Bush fend off a growing number of congressional probes, announced Friday that he had expanded his staff to handle the workload.

Fielding has hired nine lawyers, filling four vacancies and expanding the size of the staff to 22 attorneys from 17, according to White House officials.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the new hires included specialists in the Supreme Court, Congress and the military.

"Our goal is to simply make sure we have the right people in place to address issues and requests for information that come our way," she said.

Since Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress in January, they have launched or intensified investigations of the White House. Among them are probes of the administration's domestic surveillance program and the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Chairmen of congressional committees have frequently complained that the White House has been unresponsive to many requests for information or documents that they believe they have a right to review as part of their oversight of the executive branch.

White House lawyers have argued that the president has a right to keep the advice of his staff confidential but have so far not invoked executive privilege in rejecting requests.

Jonathan Godfrey, spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, noted that the committee had also added staff.

"As relates to the White House legal counsel," Godfrey said, "we hope that the additional staff leads to more cooperation with our requests rather than confrontation and stonewalling."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, declined to discuss the expansion of the White House Counsel's Office.

Leahy and Waxman, along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), have been aggressively pursuing investigations of the Bush administration.

Among the new hires is J. Michael Farren, former general counsel for Xerox Corp., who once served as deputy campaign manager for the reelection of former President George H.W. Bush. Farren will take over as deputy White House counsel, a job currently held by William Kelley, who is departing this month.

White House officials said Fielding declined to be interviewed.

Fielding, 68, a veteran of Watergate who served as deputy White House counsel under John Dean in the Nixon White House, joined the administration in January in part to help Bush weather an expected onslaught of investigations by congressional Democrats.

Fielding is in a standoff with congressional investigators who want presidential advisor Karl Rove to testify about the U.S. attorneys firings and other issues. Fielding has said that Rove would agree only to talk informally, behind closed doors, to a small group of senators without notes or a transcript.

maura.reynolds@latimes.com

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