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Across Capitol Hill, Democratic-led committees are considering punishments for past and present Bush administration officials for a range of alleged misdeeds, from discriminating against liberals at the Justice Department to blowing off subpoenas and lying to Congress.
The proceedings on Wednesday are the latest congressional review of the White House, a constitutionally mandated power that majority Democrats relish. But three months out from Election Day, a lame-duck Congress conducting oversight of a lame-duck White House produces mostly talk. There’s little time and less willingness to spend the remaining five weeks of the congressional session doing more than holding televised hearings to try to convince voters that President Bush has abused the powers of his office.
The allegations certainly are serious.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday was to hear from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, who reported this week that former department officials broke the law by letting Bush administration politics dictate the hiring of prosecutors, immigration judges and other career government lawyers. The probe springs from Justice’s firings of nine federal prosecutors that sparked congressional investigations last year and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
House and Senate Democrats said the findings affirmed their contention that career Justice employees were hired and fired based on whether they were deemed sufficiently conservative, a violation of law. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said he was considering bringing criminal charges against some of the former officials named in Fine’s report who may have lied to his committee. Lying to Congress is a crime, but there’s little agreement among Democrats on whether a perjury referral against some of the officials is warranted.
Everyone has questions. Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in an interview that he was seeking more details from Fine.
"He says that federal law was violated as to a number of people. That’s a very serious charge," the Pennsylvania Republican said. "I would want to know the details on the facts which led the inspector general to these conclusions."
On the House side, meanwhile, a subcommittee of Conyers’ panel is considering citing former presidential adviser Karl Rove with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena that compelled his attendance at a July 10 session. Democrats on the panel want to hear his testimony about the extent to which the politicization of the Justice Department was directed by the White House. Bush declared that information off limits under executive privilege.
If approved by the House subcommittee, the contempt citation against Rove would move to the full House. It was unclear whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi would allow a vote on it. Earlier this year, the House approved contempt citations against two Bush confidants — White House counsel Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers — who likewise refused to comply with their subpoenas. The House then filed suit against the two, which is still pending in federal court.
Regardless of the outcome, if the judge wades into the dispute, Bush will be out of office before it’s resolved.