Mukasey refuses probe of Bush aides
Mukasey refuses probe of Bush aides
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer 35 minutes
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused
Friday to refer the House's contempt citations against
two of President Bush's top aides to a federal grand
jury. Mukasey said White House Chief of Staff Josh
Bolten and former presidential counsel Harriet Miers
committed no crime.
As promised, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that
she has given the Judiciary Committee authority to
file a lawsuit against Bolten and Miers in federal
"The House shall do so promptly," she said in a
Mukasey said Bolten and Miers were right in ignoring
subpoenas to provide Congress with White House
documents or testify about the firings of federal
"The department will not bring the congressional
contempt citations before a grand jury or take any
other action to prosecute Mr. Bolten or Ms. Miers,"
Mukasey wrote Pelosi.
Pelosi shot back that the aides can expect a lawsuit.
"The American people demand that we uphold the law,"
Pelosi said. "As public officials, we take an oath to
uphold the Constitution and protect our system of
checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do
The suit had a political purpose too. Democrats have
urged that the filing occur swiftly so that a judge
might rule before the November elections, when all 435
House seats and a third of the Senate are up for
grabs. Criticism of Bush's use of executive power is a
key tenet of the Democrats' platform, from the
presidential race on down.
The House voted two weeks ago to cite Bolten and Miers
for contempt of Congress and seek a grand jury
investigation. Most Republicans boycotted the vote.
Pelosi requested the grand jury investigation on
Thursday and gave Mukasey a week to reply. She said
the House would file a civil suit seeking enforcement
of the contempt citations if federal prosecutors
declined to seek misdemeanor charges against Bolten
and Miers. The plaintiffs would be the entire
Judiciary Committee, who would be represented by the
House's lawyers, according to aides to Pelosi and
committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.
Mukasey took only a day to get back to her. But he had
earlier joined his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, in
telling lawmakers they would refuse to refer any
contempt citations to prosecutors because Bolten and
Miers were acting at Bush's instruction.
A civil suit would drag out a slow-motion crawl to a
constitutional struggle between a Democratic-run
Congress and a Republican White House that has been
simmering for more than a year.
Democrats say Bush's instructions to Miers and Bolten
to ignore the House Judiciary Committee's subpoenas
was an abuse of power and an effort to block an effort
to find out whether the White House directed the
firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 for political
Republicans call the whole affair a political game and
walked out of the House vote on the contempt citations
The 223-32 House vote on a resolution approving the
contempt citations Feb. 14 was the first of its type
in 25 years. 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
In his letter, received by the House early Friday
evening, Mukasey pointed out that not only was Miers
directed not to testify, she also was immune from
congressional subpoenas and was right to not show up
to the hearing to which she had been summoned.
"The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to
apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an
executive branch official who asserts the president's
claim of executive privilege," Mukasey wrote, quoting
"Accordingly," Mukasey concluded, "the department has
determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and
Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did
not constitute a crime."
Though they were not surprised, Democrats reacted to
Mukasey's letter with outrage.
"Today's decision to shelve the contempt process, in
violation of a federal statute, shows that the White
House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the
U.S. attorney firings hidden," said Conyers. "In the
face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice
but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the