Congressmen returning from their Independence Day break are ready for battle with the White House, with Democrats decrying President Bush’s commutation of former aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s prison sentence and fighting Bush’s latest claim of executive privilege.
Both events occurred around Congress’ vacation, inflaming an intense battle between Democrats and Bush over his use of executive power. There was relatively high tension on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as majority Democrats — and increasing numbers of Republicans — challenged Bush’s Iraq war policy.
Meanwhile, several Democratic-run investigations are playing out this week as they head toward contempt of Congress citations and, if neither side yields, federal court:
- Monday is the deadline for the White House to explain why Bush is refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena for e-mails and other documents on his aides’ involvement in the firings of eight federal prosecutors last winter. The White House is not expected to comply with the deadline.
- In a pair of hearings Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will look at Bush’s commutation last week of Libby’s prison sentence for obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hear from former White House political director Sara Taylor about the prosecutor firings, according to Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
- The next day, the House panel is expected to turn to the prosecutor firings and has scheduled testimony from former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. It’s unclear whether she will appear.
On Iraq, Democrats expect to resume legislative challenges to Bush’s policy on the war as the Senate this week takes up a major defense spending bill. The administration has been concerned about an escalation of Iraqi war fervor. So much so that Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled a four-nation South American tour this week to work with the White House on Iraq policy.
In Baghdad Monday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned that a quick American troop withdrawal could lead to civil war and the collapse of the Iraqi state.
He said the U.S. has a responsibility to build Iraqi forces so that they can take over the country’s security. But he also told reporters that the Iraqis “understand the huge pressure that will increase more and more in the United States” ahead of a September report to Congress by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and military commander Gen. David Petraeus.
The weeklong Fourth of July break did not cool disputes between Congress and the White House. In fact, Bush’s commutation of Libby’s prison sentence teed up a new project for Democratic investigators.
Leahy and others said they suspect that Bush commuted Libby’s sentence to keep Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff from revealing internal White House discussions.
So they are talking to the prosecutor in the CIA case, Patrick Fitzgerald, about testifying before Congress, several senators said Sunday.
“I think you may very well see Mr. Fitzgerald before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Leahy said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Through White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Bush declared executive privilege on the documents subpoenaed by the committees. He argued that releasing them would damage the confidential nature of advice given the president. The Judiciary Committee chairmen demanded that the White House explain the decision more fully by Monday.
The Washington Post, citing unidentified sources, reported Sunday that Fielding was expected to tell lawmakers that he already has provided the legal basis for the executive privilege claims and does not intend to hand over the documentation sought.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on Leahy’s committee, defended the White House.
“There comes a point where the White House has to say, ‘Hey, look there are certain confidential things in the White House that we’re not going to share with Congress, just like there are certain confidential things in Congress that we’re not going to share with the White House,’” Hatch, R-Utah, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Both Leahy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., have said they would move toward holding those named in the subpoenas in contempt of Congress if they do not comply.