Bush hides behind executive privilege

President Bush, in a constitutional showdown with Congress, claimed executive privilege Thursday and rejected demands for White House documents and testimony about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

His decision was denounced as “Nixonian stonewalling” by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush rejected subpoenas for documents from former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. The White House made clear neither one would testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas.

Presidential counsel Fred Fielding said Bush had made a reasonable attempt at compromise but Congress forced the confrontation by issuing subpoenas. “With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation.”

The assertion of executive privilege was the latest turn in increasingly hostile standoffs between the administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the Iraq war, executive power, the war on terror and Vice President Dick Cheney’s authority. A day earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered subpoenas to the offices of Bush, Cheney, the national security adviser and the Justice Department about the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

While weakened by the Iraq war and poor approval ratings in the polls, Bush has been adamant not to cede ground to Congress.

“Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Bush’s assertion of executive privilege was “unprecedented in its breadth and scope” and displayed “an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow weighed in with unusually sharp criticism of Congress. He accused Democrats of trying “to make life difficult for the White House. It also may explain why this is the least popular Congress in decades, because you do have what appears to be a strategy of destruction, rather than cooperation.”

Over the years, Congress and the White House have avoided a full-blown court test about the constitutional balance of power and whether the president can refuse demands from Congress. Lawmakers could vote to cite witnesses for contempt and refer the matter to the local U.S. attorney to bring before a grand jury. Since 1975, 10 senior administration officials have been cited but the disputes were all resolved before getting to court.

Congressional committees sought the documents and testimony in their investigations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ stewardship of the Justice Department and the firing of eight federal attorneys over the winter. Democrats say the firings were an example of improper political influence. The White House contends that U.S. attorneys are political appointees who can be hired and fired for almost any reason.

In a letter to Leahy and Conyers, Fielding said Bush had “attempted to chart a course of cooperation” by releasing more than 8,500 pages of documents and sending Gonzales and other officials to Capitol Hill to testify.

The president also had offered to make Miers, Taylor, political strategist Karl Rove and their aides available to be interviewed by the Judiciary committees in closed-door sessions, without transcripts and not under oath. Leahy and Conyers rejected that proposal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said the House and Senate panels should accept Bush’s original offer.

Impatient with the “lagging” pace of the investigation into the U.S. attorney firings, Specter said he asked Fielding during a phone call Wednesday night whether the president would agree to transcripts on the interviews. Fielding’s answer: No.

“I think we ought to take what information we can get now and try to wrap this up,” Specter told reporters. That wouldn’t preclude Congress from reissuing subpoenas if lawmakers do not get enough answers, Specter said.

Fielding explained Bush’s position on executive privilege this way: “For the president to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisers and between those advisers and others within and outside the Executive Branch.”

This “bedrock presidential prerogative” exists, in part, to protect the president from being compelled to disclose such communications to Congress, Fielding argued.

In a slap at the committees, Fielding said, “There is no demonstration that the documents and information you seek by subpoena are critically important to any legislative initiatives that you may be pursuing or intending to pursue.”

It was the second time in his administration that Bush has exerted executive privilege, said White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. The first instance was in December 2001, to rebuff Congress’ demands for Clinton administration documents.

The most famous claim of executive privilege was in 1974, when President Nixon went to the Supreme Court to avoid surrendering White House tape recordings in the Watergate scandal. That was in a criminal investigation, not a demand from Congress. The court unanimously ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes.


On the Net:

Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov/

House Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.house.gov/

White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov


  1. Carl Nemo

    My apologies SEAL for not complimenting you more often on your spot-on posts. I’m concerned about Blackwater et. al. too. These mercs surely don’t fall under the Posse Commitatus Act of 1878 even though it’s been recently nullified, only in theory, with Bushco’s anti-constitutional machinations. Prince and his Christian militia of psyched-up enforcers, along with Delta Force represent a grave threat to U.S. citizens. I surely hope there’s enough “good men” left in the U.S. military to stand tall and protect their homeland by nullifying this synthetic enforcement entity created by Bushco if they should be unleashed against the citizenry of the United States. To CHB readers my best advice is, to be forwarned is to be forearmed…!

    When the 9/11, anthrax fear frenzy was at it’s peak the government and other entitites were encouraging people to have duct tape, flashlights, yada yada ad infinitum ad nauseam. That’s all well an good, but I think every household in America needs a police model Winchester or Remington pump shotgun with a variety of shotshells to handle every situation that might arise. I’m not advocating violence but one of deterrence in the face of potential tyranny!

    Never have more “untrue words” been spoken…

    “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”…:))

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Carl Nemo

    Very eloquent caio109…!

    “And I say that silence in the face of evil is a reflection of evil itself.”

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. Jenifer D.

    Seal, you’re preaching to the choir here. I’ve done my 20; so why is it that those who see fit to tell us how to do our job, you know, the jerks that have not served their time in the old uniform, thinking they know what they’re doing? These hacks aren’t competent enough to flip burgers! It’s wrong, morally and ethically, to dictate to an organzation what their job is or how to behave when one does not hold themsleves to the same standard.

    I thought LBJ was a jackass. This bunch are WAY past the old looking glass!

  4. SEAL

    The point about the private “army” that has been created is certainly one to take notice of. The only accurate count of their number comes from Iraq where the estimate is 125,000 of them there. How many exist here at home is unknown but assumed to be at least twice that number.

    I have some limited knowledge of a couple of the organizers [for want of a better word] of these “private security” companies. They are known to be Cheney compatible in their thinking and incompatible with the traditional military mindset. And we do know from the performance of their ranks in Iraq that they are riddled with borderline psycho personalities. That could be good or bad news depending upon the conditions because their bottom line loyalty is to themselves. However, their leaders are a different matter and could only be expected to go down in flames. The good news is that they would be considered enemies of the nation by the military should they be used to cause harm to its citizens.

    There are many factors involved that have been discussed by military commanders “off the record” in ‘what should we do if and when’ private conversations. I have been involved in many of them. Rest assured that the military is not a collection of robots and the unique conditions that existed in Hawaii during WWII could not be recreated on a national basis in todays information age.

    I admit to having great faith in the military of the US and a unique knowledge of things I cannot discuss. However, I should point out what is common knowledge but never mentioned on the list of conflicts or actions by our nation the fact that Iraq is not our first preemtive invasion of a foreign country. Bush the First is credited with that by his odering us into Panama to arrest the soverign leader of that country who they brought to the US to be tried in criminal court for crimes against the United States. Noriega made the mistake of threatening to close the Panama Canal. So, he wound up being convicted of [and to cover up] the criminal activity we set him up in. The Bush disregard for international law runs in the family.

    BTW very little notice has been paid to the recent multi billion dollar agreement [5 or 6] that passes ownership by General Motors of their hugely profitable Allison Transmission Division to the Carlyle [a Bush family] and Onyx [connected]conglomerates. Allison makes almost all of the miltary heavy duty trannies, etc. Interesting, eh? This is the second profitable piece of of GM that has been sold off in the last two years by the profit failing company to the quiet MIC corporate consolidation that has been going on for several years. That is the real danger.

  5. gene

    Dam Wayne to be considered with Carl and Seal is really an incrediable compliment.
    Thankyou!!!!! Carl and Seal are among my most respected commenters. Of course you did not cap my name but thats ok. Little (g) is great and I appreciate your thoughts.

  6. Wayne K Dolik

    I just read all the comments here on this article. What great notions from all, especially Seal, Carl and gene. Seal talks about ‘duty” and General Peter Pace has stated publically that military armed forces must not follow illegle or immoral orders. I suggest that is the reason General Pace was forced out.

    In regard to allegiance to one person instead to one’s Country and Constitution, none other than Hitler defined that once!

    There are many of us in this Country. I hope we resist Marshall Law with all our might. Get a good supply of arms and ammo. You might need them some day.

    Posse Commitatus prevents the Military from arresting U.S. Citizens. The new Military Commissions Act has changed that. Then there is the vast growing private armies…really makes you wonder about those folks doesn’t it?

  7. gene

    OOPS!!!! where the hell did I get pig troff from…..trough is what I mean. Wonder what a troff is, if anything. God, my brain cells are imploding, what few I have left. Got to love the aging process

  8. gene

    I read one of Carl Nemo’s post above and he is certainly well educated and I always enjoy his comments, as well as others that post at CHB. He mentioned something about motivating individuals to get involved with what we here at CHB discuss with great enthusiasm.

    I just came from walmart and I got to tell you that trying to motivate this grossly OVERWEIGHT general public (at least enough of them to do any good) would be impossible. I have never seen so many clueless, could care less, FAT, mineless, stressed out, self centered creatures….OOPS!!..people in my life.

    You might be able to motivate/encourage this incrediable mass of morbidly obese
    individuals if you offered them a free meal at one of the thousands of local pig troffs. The general public in this nation is beyond salvation of any kind. A political system will change only if the citizens revolt in numbers that would impact but from what I saw today, forget it. Its over and everyday is a good day until the real shit hits the real fan and IT WILL HAPPEN SOONER THAN LATER.

  9. caio109

    I had often thought a mystery how the German people could live out their daily lives while the Nazi’s operated concentration camps, tortured, killed, etc. How could a nation of so many educated folks allow those atrocities to happen right under their noses?
    Now I no longer wonder, for I have been brought up in the United States where we allow the same attrocities to take place while using our tax dollars.
    Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the hottest and darkest place in hell is reserved for those whom live during a time of great moral and ethical injustice and choose to stay neutral. And I say that silence in the face of evil is a reflection of evil itself. In God We Trust.

  10. Steve Horn

    We’d better face the facts – with the milk toasts that we put in congress in ’04 we’re not going to see Mr. Bush nor Mr. Cheney leave their respective offices until their terms are over.

    The tragic thing is, without the stigma or label of impeachement hanging over them, the lessons of this administration will fade from memory. Sort of like the memories of Clinton doing nothing regarding Darfur have apparently faded, as Ms. Clinton slams the Bush administration for doing the same nothing that her husband did. Of course she fails to mention Bill’s inaction on the subject.



  11. nuQler Ostrich

    And Congress? They will make new law eliminating 4th Amendment rights to be secure in persons, houses, papers and efects… Oh, wait. They already did that with the Patriot Act.

    Well, they will probably eliminate Habeas Corpus with a new law… Oh wait, they already did that with the Military Commissions bill.

    You get the idea.

    All it will take is another false-flag terrizt attack, perhaps on the Capitol building or some such and Congress will cower with their tails between their legs rolling on their back urinating all over themselves like frightened puppy dogs and enact another “Enabling Act,” just like they did after the American Reichstag Burning on 9-11.

    “…the director of the CIA warned that there could be an attack – an imminent attack – on the United States of this nature. So this is not entirely unexpected.” Sept.11 2001 Ike Skelton – Armed Services Committee member. Live on NPR

  12. Steve Horn

    Seal – I’ve taken that oath “to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States against” – and I took it (and still do) to heart. The problem is that we’ve got a guy in the Whitehouse who’s taken that oath three times – once when he was comissioned in the AF, once in Jan 2001 and again in Jan 2005 – and has never – never – lived up to it. President Bush just doesn’t feel he’s obliged to live up to the oath – somehow for some reason he has decided that he’s above the law.

    While I agree that the military doesn’t follow the commands of a President without consideration to their legality, I question if the mercenary forces being employed in Iraq to augment the military would do the same. These private armies are, in my opinion, a greater threat to our freedom than a single nut case like Bush. At the beck and call of whomever has enough cash to pay for their services – to whom to they pledge their loyalty?

    Kinda adds a new meaning to the song title “onward Christian soldiers” does it not?


  13. JudyB

    “The Dolt Bush” of the Bush/Cheney regime has always lived with privleges! The fact is, its been his way or the highway all of his life. I cannot see anyway of stopping this moron from continuing his deadly, damaging, demoralizing reign of ruin other than his impeachment, that I would love to see occur… and I’m not holding my breath on that.

  14. SEAL

    Liberal Girl, Where I have been is in the United States Navy over 30 years in a position to to know what the actual facts are and what the military mind set is and what their duties actually are. Contrary to popular belief, the military does not blindly follow orders issued by the commander in chief. It must be a legal order. And just because it has been written and stamped with official what nots does not change the military’s responsibility to the constitution which is their highest authority.

    Every officer swears an oath to the Constitution of the United States, not the president. That oath is to protect and defend the people of the nation against all enemies and it expressly forbids us from any actions upon or against the citizens of this nation. No president can countermand that. The constitution would have to be ammended.

    You must understand that the US military Is designed to wage war. We are not a policing agency. We cannot and will not wage war upon our own citizens no matter what order is given by whatever authority. Under Marshall Law we are there only to provide manpower and equipment to help keep order. But there is a reality to a declaration of Marshall Law you must understand. There are not enough troops to secure the entire country. Not even half of it. And under Marshall Law all policing agencies come under military authority. No military commander can give the order to fire [wage war] upon the citizens of this nation. The prime directive, Mr. Spock, is to protect and defend them.

    So there you have the reality. The president can issue the order but without the consent and cooperation of the people it is unenforceable. The people are the highest authority under the constitution and they need to realize that. All government authority exists only by the consent of the governed. They should read the constitution.

    Bush cannot refuse what the representatives of the people have requested. He is answerable to the people at all times. His refusal qualifies as “high crimes and misdomeanors.” He will get away with it only if the people allow it. That is the realization that is missing in this nation today and why we are in such a mess.

  15. LurkingFromTheLeft

    I’ve said it before

    …and I’ll say it again –

    …I’m still not sure he’ll leave – and take his dick with him – come January 2009 –

    …he’ll claim executive privilege – justifying it by saying it is right to do this because it is right AND he is too –


  16. Steve Horn

    Actually, Nixon was smart enough to know he was in trouble – he tried to stonewall but he knew his days in the oval room were numbered.

    Bush isn’t even smart enough to figure out that he’s chin deep in shit and about to step off a ledge.

    Of course – it would be nice if Congress would take deliberate action rather than playing this idiotic game of cat and mouse – but I’ve learned not to expect much from any branch of the government – especially the legislative.