WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats are pressing their campaign to have White House political guru Karl Rove, under oath and under the glare of television lights, fielding questions before a congressional committee on the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors.
Subpoenas for Rove and other top White House aides were expected to be authorized Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. A House panel took similar action Wednesday, but held off issuing the subpoenas.
Facing a potential constitutional showdown, the White House showed no inclination to compromise, saying Bush would only allow his aides to hold limited private interviews with certain lawmakers, and not under oath.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow on Thursday accused supporters of subpoenas of wanting "a Perry Mason scene where people are hot-dogging and grandstanding and trying to score political points."
"If you want the truth, we're going to make the truth possible and everybody is going to be able to find out everything," he said on CBS's "The Early Show."
Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," Snow said, "I know a lot of people want this 'Showdown at the OK Corral' kind of thing. People might have a beef if we were withholding anything. We're not."
He said the constitutional tug-of-war would never have ensued had members of Congress been "interested in fact-finding as opposed to browbeating a White House aide. What they're missing now is a televised spectacle."
The president's chief spokesman had said Wednesday that proposal, which he called Bush's final offer, could be rescinded. "If they issue subpoenas, yes, the offer is withdrawn," Snow said. Democrats "will have rejected the offer."
Countered Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.: "They came up and said, 'This is our offer. Take it or leave it. Accept these papers where we've erased 100 pages or more so you don't even know what's on there. Do a closed door hearing where the public has no idea what is said and they're not under oath, and if you don't like that, take it or leave it.' Well nobody's going to take that."
Leahy, appearing on NBC's "Today" show, complained that a hundred or more pages of the documents provided by the White House have been redacted.
Even as both sides dug in publicly, prominent lawmakers worked behind the scenes to avert a court battle between the executive and legislative branches.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel's senior Republican, said he was considering backing Democrats' move to authorize subpoenas, but was also working to cut a deal with the White House to avoid having to issue them.
Bush is standing by embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, even as Republicans and Democrats question his leadership. The president insists that the firings of the prosecutors over the past year were appropriate, while Democrats argue they were politically motivated.
The prosecutors are appointed to four-year terms by the president and serve at his pleasure. meaning they can dismissed at any time.
Democrats have rejected Bush's offer - relayed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday by White House counsel Fred Fielding - in large part because there would be no transcript and the testimony would not be public.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, said it would be "outrageous," to allow Rove to testify off the record.
"Anyone who would take that deal isn't playing with a full deck," Reid said.
Reid added that Gonzales "is history. He can't survive."
Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, the No. 3 House Republican, stopped short of calling for Gonzales' ouster, but said the prosecutors flap and recent revelations about the FBI's rampant misuse of its spying powers are threatening to distract him from his job.
Gonzales "has to evaluate how effectively he can continue to serve as our attorney general," Putnam said. "He is standing in the middle of a tornado, largely of his own making."
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., meanwhile, said Gonzales had lied to him when he said he planned to seek confirmation for a prosecutor named to replace the fired Arkansas U.S. attorney. Pryor already has asked for Gonzales' resignation, as have three Republican lawmakers.
Gonzales has been on the defensive for his handling of the prosecutor firings and a shifting series of explanations that followed. In an apparent attempt to mend fences, he arranged a series of meetings in the coming days with groups of U.S. attorneys around the country, beginning Thursday in St. Louis.
The House Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law agreed Wednesday to compel the top White House aides to testify.
The double-barreled House and Senate actions don't guarantee an impasse, however.
With authorizations in hand, the Democratic chairmen of the Judiciary panels, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Leahy can issue subpoenas at any time, but they haven't done so yet.
They also could continue to negotiate with the White House, with the threat of subpoenas as a bargaining chip.
Specter floated a proposal late Wednesday in which a limited number of House and Senate lawmakers would be allowed to hear from White House aides who were not under oath, and a transcript of the proceedings would be provided.
Specter said his "strong preference" was that the testimony be public. It was not clear whether other Republicans or any Democrat would back such an approach.