House Judiciary Panel Sues Bush Aides for Contempt

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Political Justice At Issue

by Glynn Wilson

The general counsel for the United States House of Representatives filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the House Judiciary Committee Monday to enforce subpoenas on former aides to President Bush who have refused to cooperate in the investigation of how the Justice Department was turned into a political arm of the White House.

“We do not have a king in our country, we have a President and his advisers who, like all citizens, cannot simply ignore the law,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich, said in announcing the lawsuit.

At issue are the firings of at least nine U.S. attorneys for political reasons and the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, as well as the actions of loyal federal prosecutors who were retained by the Bush administration.

The lawsuit names former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, a Bush loyalist from Texas, and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten. Both were cited for contempt of Congress last month, but have refused to testify under oath on the orders of President George W. Bush in a broad claim of executive privilege.


In the press release announcing the lawsuit, the committee criticizes the Justice Department under Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who refused to present the contempt citations to a grand jury, “contrary to federal law.”

“We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress,” Conyers said. “Under our system of checks and balances, Congress provides oversight of the executive branch to make sure that government power is not abused. The administration’s extreme claims to be immune from the oversight process are at odds with our constitutional principles on which this country was founded, and I am confident the federal courts will agree.”

Miers and Bolten violated their obligations under committee subpoenas by refusing to appear before the committee or to provide subpoenaed documents. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and will be served on Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolton as soon as possible.

The Judiciary Committee asks the court to find that Ms. Miers is not “immune” from the obligation to appear before the committee in response to a duly authorized, issued and served committee subpoena, and for both defendants to produce privilege logs identifying all documents withheld on grounds of executive privilege.

The lawsuit also asks the court to rule that executive privilege does not cover documents not involving the president or undertaken directly in preparation for advising the president or whose contents are widely-known, previously released or previously the subject of extensive, authorized testimony.

The court should require both defendants to appear before the committee to respond to pertinent questions not protected by executive privilage.

“I do not take this step lightly,” Conyers said. “It is extremely rare that Congress must litigate in order to enforce subpoenas and no compromise can be reached. Unfortunately, this administration simply will not negotiate towards a compromise resolution so we must proceed. I look forward to a quick and favorable ruling by the court, so that we can complete our investigation.”

About a dozen Justice Department officials have resigned since evidence in the investigation became public, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House political adviser Karl Rove. Documents turned over by the department indicate that the White House played a substantial role in the development and execution of the plan to force U.S. attorneys to resign, as well as the Siegelman case.

The contempt citation passed the House by a vote of 223 to 32 after most Republicans boycotted the proceeding, and marks the first time in U.S. history that either chamber of Congress has sued the Executive Branch to enforce a subpoena.

The report on the year-long investigation says the committee “has uncovered substantial evidence” that the Bush administration and Justice Department “injected partisan considerations” into the forced resignations or retention of U.S. attorneys and cites “credible evidence” that U.S. attorneys who “failed to return desired indictments or failed to bring voter fraud prosecutions that were considered politically useful to the administration were forced to resign,” as were those who “prosecuted officeholders allied with the administration.”

In a related story, former Bush aide Karl Rove spoke to a hostile crowd at the University of Iowa recently. And in response to questions, he said, “I haven’t been indicted yet, but I fully expect to be by the end of the year.”

Related Links
House Judiciary Committee Files Suit Against Administration
House Panel Sues to Force Bush Aides to Testify
Executive Privilege on the Firing Line
Rove Expects To Be Indicted by Year’s End

© 2008 – 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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