House finds Bolten, Miers in contempt of Congress
By Alexander Bolton and Klaus Marre
Posted: 02/14/08 02:21 PM [ET]
The House voted Thursday to hold White House Chief of
Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel
Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress for refusing to
testify before a panel investigating the firing of
several United States attorneys.
Ahead of the vote, Republicans had walked out in an
effort to show that they want to work on a permanent
update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
(FISA) rather than be part of a partisan fishing
expedition, as House Minority Leader John Boehner
(R-Ohio) put it.
The contempt vote raises the stakes between the White
House and Congress in the battle over the fired U.S.
attorneys and could set up a constitutional showdown
between the legislative and executive branches.
The matter will now be referred to the U.S. attorney
for the District of Columbia.
If the fight comes to a head without a compromise
having been reached, it could pit Congresss power to
hold White officials in contempt against the
presidents right to assert executive privilege.
Democrats passed two resolutions through the adoption
of a single rule, a procedural tactic that limited the
time of debate, angering Republicans. One resolution
holds Bolten and Miers in contempt. The second sets
the stage for a civil suit the House would file
against the administration to compel it to force
Bolten and Miers to testify.
I hope this administration will realize this Congress
is serious about its constitutional role of
oversight, said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Pelosi, who stated that she had hoped that this day
would never have come, added that, if White House
officials instruct Department of Justice attorneys not
to prosecute the contempt citations, we will have
power to go to federal court and seek civil
enforcement of our subpoenas.
Republicans argued that Congress should not seek a
showdown with the White House on the issue, claiming
that losing the case would hurt the legislative branch
in the long run.
Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) said the case creates
the potential to undermine the power of the first
branch of government.
Members of both parties drew up nightmare scenarios,
with Dreier indicating that losing a court case on the
issue would make Congress a lesser branch, while Rep.
Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said not acting now would
embolden future presidents to exert executive
privilege more often.
The House acted Thursday after months of negotiations
between Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of
the Judiciary Committee, and White House officials,
and Pelosi blasted the Bush administration for
The White House offered to allow House investigators
to question Bolten and Miers privately under strict
conditions. Investigators would not have been allowed
to make a transcript of the examination or copy
documents. The House also would have had to agree not
to seek further information, said Democrats.
Democratic leaders rejected the conditions out of
hand, arguing that no lawyer would agree to such
This is beyond arrogance, said Pelosi. Its hubris
taken to the ultimate degree.
Conyers said he had already discovered plenty of
evidence of wrongdoing at the Department of Justice.
He said officials made the decision to fire attorneys
on the basis of whether they had pursued public
corruption charges against Democratic government
officials. He also said that Justice officials made
misleading statements to investigators minimizing the
apparent involvement of White House personnel in the
Republicans blasted the move and its timing, with Rep.
Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking member of the
Judiciary Committee, calling the contempt measure an
act of extreme partisanship.
Many GOP lawmakers also accused the Democratic
leadership of wasting time on the contempt charges
instead of passing the FISA update.
On the eve of the expiration of critical intelligence
legislation, the House Democratic Majority has chosen
to put extreme partisanship ahead of our countrys
safety, Smith said. Apparently, the Democratic
majority cares more about the alleged steroid use of a
few baseball players and the personnel decisions of
the White House than they do about promoting national security.