House Democrats Push Contempt Citations

“Republicans said Democrats couldn’t win this fight, noting the White House has offered to make top presidential aides available for private interviews about their roles in the firings. Republicans also suggested that the Democrats’ rejection of the offer leaves only one reason for the dispute: politics.

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

The White House has said that Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former legal counselor Harriet Miers, among other top advisers to President Bush, are absolutely immune from subpoenas because their documents and testimony are protected by executive privilege.

Democrats reject that claim and had drafted for a vote Wednesday a resolution citing Miers and Bolten with contempt of Congress. That would be a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence. If the measure wins support from a majority of the Judiciary and the full House, it would be advanced 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 “long-standing” 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 the same position applies to Miers, who left the White House earlier this year.

If history and self-interest are any guide, the two sides will resolve the dispute before it gets to federal court. Neither side wants a judge to settle the question about the limits of executive privilege, for fear of losing.”

There are so many out-and-out untruths in that incredible passage that I don’t know where to start. And lotsa scary true stuff, too. I mean, about the Attorney of the District of Columbia being a Bush appointee…there’s no way this thing can survive if that’s true. As if it were set up from the beginning to fail….

Also:

“Contempt of Congress is a federal crime, but a sitting president has the authority to commute the sentence or pardon anyone convicted or accuses of any federal crime.”

So no one’s in danger at all. Not a one. Remember that the President just pardoned someone guilty of a federal crime not a month ago, and Libby was close to the Administration too. They’re all going to get away with it and they know it.

So what’s the point?

“Neither side wants a judge to settle the question about the limits of executive privilege, for fear of losing.”

If that statement is true, then no one is on Our side.

– Jason Cutler

****

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070725/prosecutors-contempt/

House Democrats Push Contempt Citations

LAURIE KELLMAN | July 25, 2007 11:00 AM EST | AP

WASHINGTON — House Democrats proposed a contempt citation Wednesday against two White House aides who have refused to comply with subpoenas on the firings of federal prosecutors.

Democrats argued that Congress has nothing to lose by forcing a constitutional showdown with the Bush administration over the protracted controversy that has engulfed the Justice Department and jeopardized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ job.

“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,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said. “We won’t be able to get anybody in front of this committee or any other.”

Republicans said Democrats couldn’t win this fight, noting the White House has offered to make top presidential aides available for private interviews about their roles in the firings. Republicans also suggested that the Democrats’ rejection of the offer leaves only one reason for the dispute: politics.

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

The White House has said that Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former legal counselor Harriet Miers, among other top advisers to President Bush, are absolutely immune from subpoenas because their documents and testimony are protected by executive privilege.

Democrats reject that claim and had drafted for a vote Wednesday a resolution citing Miers and Bolten with contempt of Congress. That would be a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence. If the measure wins support from a majority of the Judiciary and the full House, it would be advanced 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 “long-standing” 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 the same position applies to Miers, who left the White House earlier this year.

If history and self-interest are any guide, the two sides will resolve the dispute before it gets to federal court. Neither side wants a judge to settle the question about the limits of executive privilege, for fear of losing.

But no deal appeared imminent. White House Counsel Fred Fielding has offered to make top administration officials available for private, off-the-record interviews about the administration’s role in the firings. But he has invoked executive privilege and directed Miers, Bolten and the Republican National Committee to withhold almost all relevant documents. Miers did not even appear at a hearing to which she had been summoned, infuriating Democrats.

Democrats rejected Fielding’s “take-it-or-leave-it” offer and advised lawyers for Miers and Bolten that they were in danger of being held in contempt of Congress.

If the citation passes the committee and then the full House by simple majorities, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi then would transfer it to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. The man who holds that job, Jeff Taylor, is a Bush appointee. The Bush administration has made clear it would not let a contempt citation be prosecuted because the information and documents sought are protected by executive privilege.

Contempt of Congress is a federal crime, but a sitting president has the authority to commute the sentence or pardon anyone convicted or accuses of any federal crime.

Congress can hold a person in contempt if that person obstructs proceedings or an inquiry by a congressional committee. Congress has used contempt citations for two main reasons: to punish someone for refusing to testify or refusing to provide documents or answers, and for bribing or libeling a member of Congress.

The last time a full chamber of Congress voted on a contempt citation was 1983. The House voted 413-0 to cite former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle for contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before a House committee. Lavelle was later acquitted in court of the contempt charge, but she was convicted of perjury in a separate trial.

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