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LaTourette Unplugged: Republican Lets Loose on White House Over Executive Privilege Fight
By Damon Chappie
Roll Call Senior Staff Writer

Rep. Steve LaTourette's (R-Ohio) frustration over the Bush administration's refusal to hand over documents about FBI malfeasance boiled down to a blunt message: "The conclusion reached by the Justice Department is crap."

Call it LaTourette unplugged: Last week the four-term Republican launched a sprawling tirade during a full Government Reform Committee hearing called to examine why the White House has invoked executive privilege in refusing to turn over internal Justice Department documents that may shed light on FBI corruption in Boston.

"I wish I could be more artful, but I'm pissed off by the posture you put this committee in," LaTourette told the mid-level Justice Department officials testifying before the panel.

Acknowledging he had just come from the dentist's office for some emergency work, LaTourette, a former county prosecutor, plainly expressed his frustration with the Bush secrecy policy, calling it "abhorrent."

"The administration is making the Republicans in the United States Congress and the White House look bad by this decision," he said. "I never thought I would see the day [where I'd] have that kind of difficulty and this kind of legal mumbo jumbo from an administration of my own party. It's an embarrassment to me as a Republican."

LaTourette also took aim at the Justice Department's prosecution of neighboring colleague Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) and the prosecutor's victory in winning a ruling to use several documents as evidence despite the legislative privilege under the Constitution's "Speech or Debate Clause."

"The Justice Department had no problem obtaining documents from a co-equal branch of government and now they are attempting to use them in court," said LaTourette, who has publicly defended Traficant. "They're walking on both sides of the street, and it's sad."

The lawmaker said he was particularly perturbed that the administration was setting up a policy to decide what information Congress may see.

"I'm not saying that the current attorney general or anybody who works there is a crook," LaTourette lectured. "But if you are all crooks, and you had control of the gate, and you could just throw up executive privilege and say you are not entitled to see what it is that J. Edgar Hoover did 30 years ago or these slime balls in the FBI office did 30 years ago, that's a nonsensical argument."

In every other previous confrontation, LaTourette observed, "the Congress got the stuff, and the Congress got the stuff because we are entitled to this stuff, and we're entitled to this stuff because we are a co-equal branch of government and if you are doing something wrong, just like if we're doing something wrong, the other co-equal branches of government are supposed to keep an eye on it."

In what he called a "cynical" assessment of the struggle, LaTourette questioned whether the Bush stance is a sign that the administration is hedging a bet.

"You think our friends on the Democratic side of the aisle might be in the majority in the second half of President Bush's first term and you're afraid that they are going to want all of this stuff," said LaTourette. "And so you say to us in the most blatant cases today that you can't have it so that you can be consistent when the Democrats take over."

"Well two things: Democrats are not going to take over and you better give us the stuff," he concluded.

Reacting to LaTourette's outburst, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), said, "The gentleman from Ohio said things that I'm not even sure I would dare to say, which really says something. But he's on target in everything he has said."