OK, so the subpoenas have been issued:
The Senate subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's office Wednesday, demanding documents and elevating the confrontation with President Bush over the administration's warrant-free eavesdropping on Americans.
Besides issuing the subpoenas, the Senate Judiciary Committee also is summoning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to discuss the program and an array of other matters that have cost a half-dozen top Justice Department officials their jobs, committee chairman Patrick Leahy announced.
What happens if the White House and the VP tell Congress to go Cheney itself?
Essentially, the Senate's options for dealing with non-compliance are:
- Move to hold the targets of the subpoenas in statutory contempt of Congress
- Move to hold the targets in inherent contempt of Congress
- Extend the deadline for compliance and make threats regarding either #1 or #2 above
- Come to some negotiated settlement with the "administration" -- i.e., closed door, no transcript testimony, limited document release, etc.
- Do nothing, complain loudly about obstructionism, stonewalling, and lawlessness, and hope that voters elect Democrats in 2008, because Republicans are so nasty
- Ask the House to impeach
That's really about it. Most likely outcome? If history's any guide, the answer lies somewhere in the neighborhood of #4. Although it should be said that history's never really been any kind of a guide for this "administration." But there's always a first time for everything, and no doubt when backed into a corner, the White House gang will be depending on the quasi-precedent of the negotiated settlement to save its bacon (or at least allow them to futz around long enough to run out the clock and slip out the back door in January 2009).
Well, statutory contempt of Congress is prosecuted at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. And we know where the U.S. Attorneys' offices are at these days. But has the U.S. Attorney ever declined to prosecute such a case? Yes it has: EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, during the Reagan administration.
How about inherent contempt? Well, that takes the Justice Department out of the loop. But it's a daring move, involving trying the contemnors at the bar of the Senate, and possibly arresting and imprisoning them on the direct authority of the Senate and its Sergeant at Arms. Has it ever been done? Yes it has, though the last time was over 70 years ago.
Extended deadlines, negotiated settlements and doing nothing all carry their own peculiar problems, mostly political. Will the executive branch ever take the legislative branch seriously if they don't hold the line? Will voters take Congress seriously? Will they be angry? Grateful? Indifferent? And what will future presidents think they're likely to face if this Congress lets this president slide?
And finally, impeachment. We know the problems, and don't need to list them again. But is this really an impeachable offense?
(More after the jump.)
In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.
In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Wherefore, Richard M. Nixon, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.
Adopted 21-17 by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives.
Just wanted to remind everyone of that.
Get your popcorn, and send your Congresscritter a note of encouragement. The options going forward are limited, and they're going to need to stiffen their spines for a long fight if they're going to offer any serious resistance to the Bush "administration's" vision of the New Imperial Presidency.
Pelosi was asked what was most important about regaining majority status. "Subpoena power," she said.
The. Most. Important. Thing.
Let's see how we do it.