WASHINGTON — The new Congress on Thursday asked a federal judge to force the Bush White House to keep documents on the controversial firings of nine federal prosecutors instead of turning them over to the National Archives.
Congressional Democrats have been fighting in court to get the documents from the administration for months, and they want to make sure they don't disappear into the National Archives. They asked U.S. District Judge John Bates to order the administration to leave the documents at the White House in the custody of President-elect Barack Obama's aides in case the information is needed.
Justice Department lawyers argued that the White House is required to turn the material over to the National Archives.
The 1978 Presidential Records Act requires all presidential and vice presidential records to be transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration immediately upon the end of a president's last term of office and gives the archivist responsibility to preserve and control access to presidential records.
The National Archives has already agreed to segregate the subpoenaed material from the rest of Bush's documents in case it is needed by the courts or the Obama administration, lawyers said.
"If they want the documents, they can request them from NARA," lawyer Carl Nichols said.
But Bates said he had no doubt "there will be some delay if the materials are sent" to the Archives. The judge suggested that he may order the administration to make copies of the documents so they can send the originals to the Archives and make the copies available to the incoming administration.
He said he would make a final ruling on Friday.
Democrats want the documents because they hope to prove that the firings of the nine federal prosecutors were politically motivated.
Bates last year ordered Bush chief of staff Josh Bolten to turn over documents about the controversial firings. His order was blocked by a federal appeals court, which said the subpoenas for the documents and the testimony from Bush aides issued by the 110th House of Representatives would expire when the congressional terms ended on Jan. 3.
The 111th House of Representatives reissued the subpoenas on Wednesday.