Vyan alerts us to an important story in The Hill today:
White House contempt
By Susan Crabtree
June 22, 2007
House Judiciary Committee Democrats warned yesterday they would pursue a contempt of Congress motion if the White House fails respond to subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the firings of U.S. attorneys last year.
The deadline for a response is Thursday, June 28. If the White House does not comply, it opens the possibility of a constitutional showdown between the two branches. In an ironic twist, the Department of Justice (DoJ) would be called on to enforce the contempt motion.
I'm not entirely sure the twist is what I'd call ironic, since I think it was part and parcel of the plan from the beginning -- to so corrupt the Department of Justice that there could never be an adequate investigation of or accounting for this "administration's" activities without triggering an impeachment, which they'd immediately seek to label as "partisan revenge for Clinton," and thereby throw yet another presidential election into confusion by flogging the ghost of the Big Dog.
But whether you think it's ironic or not, the fact is that The Hill has it right. Bush's corrupt Department of Justice would be in charge of prosecuting any statutory contempt of Congress charges voted out by the House -- something we've been discussing here for more than a year, and has come up several times since then.
(Note, too, that it's Gonzales' corrupt Department that's responsible for cracking the whip on Cheney, for his failure to comply with federal guidelines and Executive Orders regarding the handling of classified materials. Another hot topic of the day that we've discussed before. That's why I say I don't think there's anything "ironic" about it falling to the DoJ to investigate things like this. It's part of the design, just like it was when they gutted the Voting Rights Act by destroying DoJ's voting rights section, and when they blow off bipartisan demands for investigations of the NASA Inspector General.)
So here's the run-down: If the White House refuses to comply with the subpoenas, the Judiciary committee can report out a resolution that the whole House would vote on, finding those refusing compliance in contempt of Congress. That finding is referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia (about whom see Vyan's diary for more), and at the discretion of that office -- at least ostensibly -- the charges may be pursued in court.
Has the U.S. Attorney's office ever declined to prosecute its own administration for contempt? Yes it has.
In the early 1980s, EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch was charged by the House, but (warning: PDF)...
The Justice Department, anticipating the House vote, moved quickly: "Immediately after the House vote and prior to the delivery of the contempt citation," the department chose not to prosecute the case. [Notes omitted]
In fact, the DoJ sued the House of Representatives in the name of the United States, seeking to enjoin enforcement of the contempt charges.
So why is Conyers going down this road, instead of using the inherent contempt procedures?
(More after the jump.)
My assumption is that he's looking to build his case methodically, exhausting every avenue for White House compliance possible before bringing down the hammer -- if it ever drops at all. No, it's not that likely that the White House will suddenly find religion on the subject. Not on this subject. Not on Cheney's office and its open violation of national security procedures. And not on the NSA spying front, where the "administration" is telling subcommittee chairman Jerry Nadler that they simply flatly refuse to give him the documents he wants, but don't even bother to invoke executive privilege for it. They simply say go Cheney yourself.
So perhaps the strategy is to demonstrate for the public that no other avenues are possible before even considering setting off down the inherent contempt road, which has what we'll call "spine tingling" problems of its own, since it involves the actual arrest, trial before Congress and imprisonment of the contemnors.
Ultimately, though, there's been every indication from this "administration" that this is exactly where they want to go. Recall the warning published in Time:
In fact, when it comes to deploying its Executive power, which is dear to Bush's understanding of the presidency, the President's team has been planning for what one strategist describes as "a cataclysmic fight to the death" over the balance between Congress and the White House if confronted with congressional subpoenas it deems inappropriate. The strategist says the Bush team is "going to assert that power, and they're going to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court on every issue, every time, no compromise, no discussion, no negotiation."
At the time, I had this worry:
The subpoena power Nancy Pelosi promised as the fruit of a Democratic majority in the House evaporates in the face of a threat like this -- unless we're willing to counter it with a threat of our own.
But how credible is our threat? Backtrack in the Time article just a bit, and take a look at the frame in which that threat -- and we all know which unnamed "I word" embodies that threat -- is portrayed:
As for what direction the Democrats are likely to take, much would depend on whether would-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decides the next two years are about revenge, or about governing--and whether she can keep her troops in line.
Oh, wonderful. Nevermind that governing rendered impossible by the Bush "administration's" announced intention to deny Congress its oversight function, in addition to its usurpation of the legislative prerogative through its abuse of signing statements. How do you govern in our system when you have a president who simply refuses to recognize the legitimacy of any restrictions on his power? You can't. But of course, standing up to that outrage against the Constitution is "about revenge."
And, my dearest Democratic Leadership, please don't look at me like you didn't help sell that frame.
I hope you're ready to work that hard when it comes time to explain why you've decided to re-set "the table."
Looks like that bill may be about to come due.