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White House Will Not Release Katrina Documents to Congress

By Eric Lipton
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain White House documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two congressional committees investigating the federal response to the storm.

The White House this week also formally notified Rep. Richard H. Baker, R-La., that it would not support his legislation creating a federally financed reconstruction program for the state that would bail out homeowners and mortgage lenders. Many Louisiana officials consider the bill crucial to recovery, but administration officials said the state would have to use community development money already appropriated by Congress.

The White House stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other executive agencies, threatens to undermine the ability to identify what went wrong, the Democratic leaders of the inquiries said on Tuesday.

“There has been a near-total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation that we have a responsibility to do,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said at Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate committee investigating the response. His spokeswoman said he would ask for a subpoena to be issued for documents and testimony if the White House did not comply.

In response to questions later from a reporter, Trent Duffy, the deputy White House spokesman, said the administration had declined requests by investigating committees to provide testimony by Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff; Card’s deputy, Joe Hagin; Frances Fragos Townsend, the homeland security adviser; and her deputy, Ken Rapuano.

Duffy said the administration had also declined to provide to the investigators storm-related e-mail correspondence and other communications involving White House staff members. Rapuano has given briefings to the two committees, but the sessions were closed to the public and were not considered formal testimony.

“The White House and the administration are cooperating with both the House and Senate,” Duffy said. “But we have also maintained the president’s ability to get advice and have conversations with his top advisers that remain confidential.”