Pelosi wants Bush aides investigated
By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer 43
WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the
Justice Department on Thursday to open a grand jury
investigation into whether President Bush's chief of
staff and former counsel should be prosecuted for
contempt of Congress.
Pelosi, D-Calif., demanded that the department pursue
misdemeanor charges against former White House counsel
Harriet Miers for refusing to testify to Congress
about the firings of federal prosecutors in 2006 and
against chief of staff Josh Bolten for failing to turn
over White House documents related to the dismissals.
She gave Attorney General Michael Mukasey one week to
respond and said refusal to take the matter to a grand
jury will result in the House's filing a civil lawsuit
against the Bush administration.
The White House branded the request as "truly
contemptible." The Justice Department said it had
received Pelosi's request and anticipated providing
further guidance after Mukasey's review. It noted
"long-standing department precedent" in such cases
against letting a U.S. attorney refer a congressional
contempt citation to a grand jury or prosecute an
executive branch. The top House Republican called it
"a partisan political stunt" and "a complete waste of
time," according to a spokesman.
The Democratic-controlled House voted two weeks ago to
hold Bolten and Miers in contempt for failing to
cooperate with committee investigations.
"There is no authority by which persons may wholly
ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed
because a president unilaterally instructs them to do
so," Pelosi wrote Mukasey. She noted that Congress
subpoenaed Miers to appear before the House Judiciary
Committee, which is investigating the firings.
"Surely, your department would not tolerate that type
of action if the witness were subpoenaed to a federal
grand jury," Pelosi wrote.
She added: "Short of a formal assertion of executive
privilege, which cannot be made in this case, there is
no authority that permits a president to advise anyone
to ignore a duly issued congressional subpoena for
Pelosi sent an additional letter to U.S. Attorney Jeff
Taylor, the chief federal prosecutor for the District
of Columbia, whose office would oversee the grand
jury. The letters point to sections of federal law
that require the Justice Department to bring the House
contempt citations before a grand jury to investigate.
At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto said House
Democrats "have been trying to redefine the notion of
contempt and they succeeded."
Both Fratto and House GOP leader John Boehner said the
House should focus on passing legislation allowing the
government to more easily eavesdrop on phone calls and
e-mails of suspected terrorists.
"Rather than passing critical national security
legislation, they continue to squander time on
partisan hijinx," Fratto said. Boehner spokesman
Michael Steel said "this sort of pandering to the
left-wing fever swamps of loony liberal activists does
nothing to make America safer."
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep.
John Conyers, said he hoped Pelosi's demand would spur
the department to "put the partisan manipulation of
our system of justice behind it" and take the issue to
a grand jury. "To do otherwise would turn on its head
the notion that we are all equally accountable under
the law," said Conyers, D-Mich.
But the department told the House leadership last July
that it generally would not let a U.S. attorney make a
grand jury referral or prosecute executive branch
officials when they followed a president's instruction
and invoked a claim of executive privilege before a
congressional committee, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse
The letter was the latest chapter in a yearlong saga
that began with the firings of nine federal
prosecutors and led to Alberto Gonzales' resignation
as attorney general last August.
The House voted 223-32 this month to hold Miers and
Bolten in contempt for failing to cooperate with an
inquiry into whether the prosecutors' firings were
politically motivated. Angry Republicans boycotted the
vote and staged a walkout in an unusually bitter scene
even for the fractious House.
At the time, the Bush administration was no less
harsh, saying the information sought by the House was
off-limits under executive privilege and that Bolten
and Miers were immune from prosecution.
It was the first time in 25 years that a full chamber
of Congress voted on a contempt of Congress citation.
The White House pointed out that it was the first time
that such action had been taken against top White
House officials who had been instructed by the
president to remain silent to preserve executive
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to