In the wake of the favorable decision in the case of Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives v. Harriet Miers, et al., the Congress has its eye back on the "subpoena power" ball. The court's decision has done more than simply reaffirm that Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten must obey Congressional subpoenas (under penalty of exactly what, we still have not figured out). It may also have emboldened Congressional investigators and shaken loose some other exercises of the subpoena power that were waiting in the wings.
U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, today demanded that Charles E.F. Millard, director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, immediately comply with a subpoena served July 16 by turning over documents regarding a report into the agency’s management and governance practices. The U.S. District Court today reaffirmed that the executive branch must comply with congressional subpoenas.
And this, via The Gavel, in the Government Oversight National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee:
Subcommittee Chairman Tierney and Full Committee Chairman Waxman threaten Michael Dominguez, Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Defense, with contempt after he reveals that he has ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to defy a subpoena to appear
And of course, there's the Judiciary committee's recent vote to hold Karl Rove in contempt for his refusal to comply with their subpoena, but that came before the court's ruling.
But if the action in the committees this week is any indication of a wider reawakening of interest in the subpoena power, things could really break open, sending the full extent of the Bush "administration's" stonewalling of all outside oversight spilling into view at long last.
Just a few weeks ago, there was this, back in Government Oversight:
The chairman of a House committee has warned Attorney General Michael Mukasey he could be held in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t turn over documents from an FBI interview with Vice President Dick Cheney.
Back on June 20th, subscription only Congressional Quarterly reported that:
Panel Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., is investigating the White House’s role in an EPA decision to bar California from regulating vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. Separately, the panel is investigating the EPA’s decision to set a new smog pollution standard less stringent than what scientific advisers recommended.
Waxman had scheduled a Friday hearing to hold two Bush administration officials in contempt for failing to produce documents he had requested in subpoenas. But he said he would hold off on the contempt vote after learning the White House had invoked executive privilege.
The two officials are Susan Dudley, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget; and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
There's even growing realization among Bush's Republican shock troops on the Hill that this "administration's" games are endangering their own powers and prerogatives.
In an interview, Hoekstra, the committee's senior Republican, said he told McConnell that he was disgusted with what he described as the Bush administration's continuing effort to undercut any kind of outside oversight.
"This is part of a systemic problem of the administration, and I said I'm not going to take it anymore," Hoekstra said.
This isn't news to Hoekstra's fellow Republican, Dana Rohrabacher (though you won't find either of them doing anything about it):
"The disdain and uncooperative nature that this administration has shown toward Congress... is so egregious that I can no longer assume that it is simply bureaucratic incompetence or isolated mistakes. Rather, I have come to the sad conclusion that this administration has intentionally obstructed Congress’ rightful and constitutional duties."
The fact is that this "administration" has stonewalled dozens of investigations into nearly every department and agency within the executive branch. There are more than a dozen investigative committees and subcommittees in the House alone, and almost all of them could tell you stories about being stonewalled across multiple investigations by the Bush gang. In the Senate, the situation may be even worse, committee and floor rules make it even more difficult to issue and enforce subpoenas. Witness what happened to Senator Barbara Boxer's efforts to chase down EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson:
A vote on the issuance of a subpoena for the draft endangerment finding on global warming emissions rejected at the highest levels in the White House was stymied when Republican members boycotted the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works business meeting, preventing a quorum
And many of you will remember that the Senate Judiciary Committee also has a very old outstanding (and unenforced) subpoena out for Karl Rove, for the defiance of which the committee voted to hold him in contempt. But the Senate has never bothered to have a floor vote to make the contempt official. And how could they? Where would they get the 60 votes to shut down a filibuster of such a resolution?
So, does the Miers ruling mean the dam finally breaks, and a new flood of subpoenas previously bottled up by the uncertainty of the situation are now unleashed?
Unlikely, although such a deluge would constitute the first and only real demonstration of just how obstructionist the "administration" has been, across the board and on every issue. There's been no comprehensive accounting of just how many avenues of inquiry into just how many areas of critical importance to the American people have been thwarted by White House intransigence -- an intransigence that the federal courts have now joined in declaring to be without support in law or precedent. But it's still unlikely.
That's because the Congressional leadership has retained fairly tight control over how many subpoenas are issued, and how far investigators should go in pursuit of their inquiries. It's been part of the overall political strategy that had its origins in not giving rise to any kind of panic or fear of political vindictiveness -- which Republicans promised Americans would be the case if Democrats were returned to the majority -- stemming from the elections of 2006, and which has morphed into the overall political strategy of not giving rise to any kind of panic or fear of political vindictiveness that might stem from the upcoming elections of 2008.
Well, that and the fact that there are probably no more than a few weeks left of active session in the 110th Congress, with both houses in recess for the month of August, and the House still aiming at a September 26th adjournment for the year... so that they can come back home and ask for your votes. No doubt so that they may bring some accountability back to Washington.
That's life. And that's politics. The best we can hope for is that our votes buy us a respite from such overwhelming and dire need for oversight into such basic issues of governance such as, "does the executive branch have to obey the law?" Or, "what if they have to, but they just don't?"
We won't likely be getting any actual answers to those questions before we're all asked to forget about them "for the good of the country." Perhaps we'll enjoy it more than we now think just to have relief from having to ask for a few years.