WASHINGTON (CNN) - A federal judge Monday promised to rule "as soon as possible" on a Congressional demand for White House documents and testimony, but not before expressing reluctance to do so, and scolding both parties for refusing to compromise.
"I didn't volunteer for this," lamented U.S. District Court Judge John Bates during a contentious three-hour hearing focusing on the balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
The battle stems from the House investigation of the controversial firing of nine U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department.
The Democratic-controlled House asked the judge to enforce a subpoena ordering former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to testify, and for Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton to produce internal documents on the issue.
The White House has refused to hand over the material, asserting executive privilege.
Justice Department attorney Carl Nichols, representing the government, said the judge could avoid "putting his thumb on the scale" by throwing out the lawsuit, but that a decision to support Congress would "fundamentally alter the separation of powers."
White House Counsel Fred Fielding and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, were among hundreds of onlookers in the ceremonial courtroom three blocks from Capitol Hill.
Bates appeared eager to find a solution which would avoid the court's intervention. He suggested sending the parties away to try further negotiations, but lawyers for the two sides accused one another of complete intransigence.
At one point, when House counsel Irv Nathan said Congress had the authority to send the Sargeant-at-Arms to arrest Miers, Bates suggested perhaps they should have done so.
Bates also indicated that it would be possible for the government to simply run out the clock. He said an appeal is certain no matter which way he rules, and the subpoena will expire when the current Congress leaves office in December.
Nathan acknowledged the outcome of the November elections will determine whether the next Congress chooses to re-new the subpoena.
Bates said he would give the matter the "time and attention it deserves" before ruling.