House committee votes for contempt

The House Judiciary Committee approved a contempt of Congress citation Wednesday against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and one-time Counsel Harriet Miers, setting up a constitutional confrontation over the firings of federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department said it would block the citation from prosecution because information Congress is demanding is protected by executive privilege. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House effort was important nonetheless.

The contempt proceedings, she said, “are part of a broader effort by House Democrats to restore our nation’s fundamental system of checks and balances.”

The 22-17 party-line vote — which would sanction the pair for failure to comply with subpoenas on the firings — advanced the citation to the full House. A vote there is possible this fall.

“I am hopeful that today’s vote will help the administration see the light and release the information to which the Judiciary Committee is entitled,” said Pelosi, D-Calif.

Not likely. The White House has consistently dismissed the effort as legally moot because Bush has declared the information sought by the committee off-limits under executive privilege.

Wednesday action followed nearly seven months of a Democratic-driven investigation into whether the U.S. attorney firings were directed by the White House to influence corruption cases in favor of Republican candidates. The administration has denied that, but also has invoked executive privilege to shield internal White House deliberations on the matter.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding has said Miers, Bolten and other top presidential aides are immune from congressional subpoenas. And the Justice Department let the committee know that any House-passed contempt citation that might be forwarded to the U.S attorney for grand jury consideration would not be allowed to proceed.

“This is something that the drafters of this particular referral know has very little chance of going anywhere,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said just after Wednesday’s vote.

He likened the Democrat-driven investigation into the firings to “throwing mud against the wall and hoping something’s going to stick.”

The Republican former chairman of the House committee, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, suggested the Democrats go to court to directly challenge the White House stand instead.

“The proper thing to do is to determine the executive privilege claim aside from who said what, who refused to submit to what, who didn’t show up to subpoena,” he said.

Added Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah: “The real argument here is not over the audacity of the White House, but over the strength of our legal argument.”

Chairman John Conyers did not discount Sensenbrenner’s suggestion. But Conyers he also said the committee could not allow presidential aides to flout Congress’ authority.

“If we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn’t even have to bother to show up, where privilege can be asserted on the thinnest basis and in the broadest possible manner, then we have already lost,” Conyers, D-Mich., said before the vote. “We won’t be able to get anybody in front of this committee or any other.”

Fielding has offered to make White House officials available for private interviews without a transcript, but Democrats have rejected that.

Conyers subpoenaed Miers and Bolten last month, but neither responded. Miers skipped the hearing to which she had been summoned, infuriating Democrats.

Contempt of Congress would be a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence. If the citation wins support in the full House, it would be forwarded to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia — a Bush appointee.

And that’s as far as it’s likely to go, the Justice Department said in a letter to the committee late Tuesday.

Brian A. Benczkowski, principal deputy assistant attorney general, cited the department’s position, “articulated during administrations of both parties, that the criminal contempt of Congress statute does not apply to the president or presidential subordinates who assert executive privilege.”

Benczkowski said it also was the department’s view that that applies to Miers, who left the White House earlier this year.

Republicans suggested the Democrats’ push was only about politics.

“If the majority really wanted the facts, it could have had them,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

If history is any guide, the two sides will resolve the dispute before it gets to federal court. Both sides are leery of having a judge settle the question about the limits of executive privilege, for fear of losing.


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  1. long_rider

    Pelosi took impeachment off of the table when she met with the chimp, bad idea. This one action has ham-strung our government ever since. Pelosi is a neophyte, compared to cheney, the chimp, rove, and david addington. Pelosi is in over her head, and should step down. We need leadership that will fight, claw, and scratch in order to protect our constitution, and form of government

    If our Congress and Senate don’t act now they will lose oversite of the executive branch for ever.

    Our represenatitives must start to dismantle the chimps machine, starting with Gonzo. The AG is the key to any action proposed by both the congress and senate, and we all know what he will do.

    Our representatives must start impeachment proceedings against cheney.

    Our representatives must take inventory of the mess the chimp has created, clean it up, and pass laws to prevent their reoccurrance. They must find a way to prevent another Gonzo, and not depend upon a persons honor – there ain’t none in Washington.

  2. keith

    The simple truth is that the opposition doesn’t have a veto-proof majority in the Senate…yet.

    So while the House may be able to impeach Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, there simply aren’t enough votes in the Senate to remove them. Mr. Bush is well aware of this fact, which is probably also why he keeps thumbing his nose at them…and our Constitution.

    We have nobody to blame for this but ourselves, as, over the course of Bush’s “imperial” Presidency, we’ve kept electing “veto-proof” majorities in the Senate.

    Our founding fathers deliberately set our country up this way…with differing term limits (2 years for Congress, 6 years for the Senate) specifically to prevent “knee-jerk” reactions to short-term issues and events.

    But, clearly, our founding fathers probably also never imagined a President who would be so blatantly ignoring most of what they very deliberately wrote, either.

    However, unless and until we, the people, start electing representatives to Congress who will stand up against such lawlessness (rather than re-electing the same hopelessly corrupt party hacks from one or the other faction of the same “country club”) absolutely NOTHING is going to change.

  3. keith

    Just think…at one time this same Ms. Miers was Mr. Bush’s hand-picked choice to be our next justice on the Supreme Court!

    Thankfully, the tables are now (finally!) starting to turn against him and the rest of his cabal. It’s always fun to watch rats scurrying for cover.

  4. Helen Rainier

    I’m thinking that the comment “Impeachment is off the table” isn’t just what Bush wanted to hear to know he could operate with impunity.

    It seems to me it would be best to state that all options are back on the table, up to and including impeachment.

    If nothing else (as I think it would be difficult to find enough Republicans with gonads to go along with it when it really matters, i.e. voting for it) it would be an effective “club” to hold over Bushie’s pointed head.

  5. Bill Robinson

    As with Nixon, impeachment will not get Republican support until some smoking gun (not wielded by Cheney) is found and public opinion gets to the “near-violence” stage.
    I remember watching Watergate unfold, and Nixon’s head shrink lower and lower into his shoulders until he resembled a characteriture of Rich Little impersonating Richard Nixon, rather than the real man himself. Now we see Bush’s head going back and forth between Cheney’s ass and a liquor bottle and as he continues to give his rants on supposedly safe military bases, one wonders when some soldier who is about to be shipped to the killing grounds of Iraq or Afghanistan will decide to take his M16 and end the war in Iraq once and for all.
    It is amazing that Regan, the benign twit, and Ford, Mr Loved-by-All would attract maniacs who tried to asassinate them while Bush and Cheney have so far escaped any attempts. Certainly people know that Bush and Cheney are much bigger villains than Regan and Ford, so why hasn’t any attempt been made to bring an early end to this corrupt pair of traitors?
    I certainly am not advocating action in this regard, but I sure wonder why nobody tried. Imagine all those weapons of human destruction on a Military post, imagine all the people, imagine…
    I would like to see Bush & Cheney’s lives ended at the short end of a rope AFTER they are tried and found guilty. Just because they refused to honor and follow the laws of the land does not mean that we should.
    We are, and hopefully will continue to be, a nation of laws and general obedience to those laws. Let’s not demean ourselves by forgetting and neglecting to obey and practice those laws.
    Impeach the bastards, try them, and then shoot or hang them when they are found guilty as they must be. After all, would you want YOUR kid going to primary school with George Bush? Hell, the man doesn’t even know which side of the book is up.
    Bill Robinson

  6. Bill Robinson

    Nancy Pelosi, now there is a do nothing big mouthed typical politician. The fact that she originated in Maryland, home of the crooked of the crooked pols, should have been warning enough. She speaks loudly but carries a limp noodle. Her appetite for power is exceeded only by her ego, though what she has to be egotistical about is beyond the ken of this lad.
    She is a child of Marvin Mandel and Spiro Agnew (and now Bush & Cheney) type politics (i.e. Corrupt)and we should not have expected her to resist the big bucks granted to those who play on the R Team–the rich ole boys, also known as robbers.
    The way things are in DC, these legislators should hand out alka seltzer and pepto bismal every time they get up to make a speech.
    What a waste of America’s good name, pride, and wealth they are perpetrating on us. How long will we continue to bend over and get it stuck up our collective arses? Toss them all, the big and the small.
    One three year term for all elected and appointed politicians. No exceptions. Return them all to the Social Security System–retroactive to all living and retired politicians. They do not deserve anything more. They are our employees–why should we pay them more than the average man or woman earns for the same hours put in?
    We should not.
    Bill Robinson

  7. gene

    If they would just go a head and just impeach Bush and Cheney based on all the factual criminal behavior and lies but what am I saying, congress is just as criminal as the white house. And “we the people” (Mr. and Miss clueless, mentally challenged public citizen) don’t care unless it concerns their pathetic individual lives. Eventually they will be forced to pay attention but it will be way to late then. What happen in Germany is happening here, now.

  8. history guy

    It’s good to see our representatives concentrating on something worthwhile and important instead of those petty items like the war and the massive debt our country is growing.
    They did manage to pass an Ag bill without eliminating payments to farmers with over $200,000/year incomes. Most of the money goes to big agri-business. Ms Pelosi made sure it passed.
    How does Congress even get a 14% approval rating?