The most amusing spin following the vote by a majority of US senators to prepare a “no-confidence” vote against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was the suggestion that the scandal-plagued Cabinet member had earned something of a reprieve.

Because the Senate did not muster the super-majority of 60 votes needed to schedule the “no-confidence” vote on Monday, the White House and its media acolytes suggested, the tide had turned in favor of Gonzales.

In fact, the decision of seven Republican senators to join their Democratic colleagues in taking steps to signal that the Attorney General did nothing to dampen enthusiasm for holding Gonzales to account.

In fact, it certainly looks as if congressional investigators are feeling emboldened.

How much?

On Wednesday, long-delayed subpoenas were issued to former White House aides who were intimately involved in efforts to remove US attorneys who were deemed to be insufficiently partisan in their investigations and prosecutions.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, issued a subpoena to former White House political director Sara Taylor. Leahy left no doubt about what the line of questioning would be, saying that, “White House officials like former Political Director Sara Taylor were deeply involved in the mass firings of well-performing prosecutors…”

Another of those White House officials, former counsel Harriet Miers, is set to receive a subpoena from House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan.

The dispatching of subpoenas to key players in the Bush White House — both of whom left their jobs only this year: Miers in January, Taylor in late May — opens an important new front in the inquiry into the firings of the US attorneys and the broader issue of the politicization of the Justice Department. It also takes the investigation closer to the president, whose closeness to Miers was highlighted to his ill-fated attempt to place her on the Supreme Court.

But this is only the beginning of the next stage.

Leahy has been authorized to subpoena a number of current and former White House aides, most notably political czar Karl Rove. That makes the call for Taylor to testify especially significant, as she worked with Rove on a daily basis.

Does this mean Rove will be getting a subpoena soon? Bet on it.

Testimony by Taylor and Miers, which should come in July if the White House decides not to fight the demands from the House and Senate, will help to set the stage for a grilling of Rove. And once Rove is under oath, the discussion will turn to the meetings where outgoing White House counselor Dan Bartlett has confirmed that Bush discussed firing the prosecutors with his chief political adviser and Gonzales.

White House spokesperson Dana Perino grumbles Leahy and Conyers are issuing the subpoenas because they are interested in “drama.”

The always unwitting Perino is, on this particular point, correct.

What could be more dramatic than a summer of testimony about how White House legal and political aides conspired with the Attorney General and the president himself to hire and fire U.S. Attorneys as part of scheme to use law enforcement agencies of the federal government to achieve political ends?


John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”