Congress could pursue contempt charges for Bush
Washington Post blog
July 1, 2007

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee signaled today that he would seek to hold White House officials in contempt of Congress if they do not comply with congressional subpoenas.

"If they don't cooperate, yes, I'll go that far," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he would ask Congress to hold President Bush in contempt if he refuses to respond to subpoenas.

"They've chosen confrontation rather than compromise or cooperation," Leahy said.

Democrats and the White House are locked in battle over two areas in which Congress has asked for access to information.

Last week, White House counsel Fred Fielding said Bush has claimed executive privilege in deciding not to turn over documents relating to the administration's warrantless surveillance program. Bush also has relied on executive privilege to refuse to allow former White House officials Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor to testify in the continuing investigation over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

"The president and vice president are not above the law anymore than you and I are," Leahy said.

Leahy said he is not trying to shut down the surveillance program.

"We're asking what was the legal justification they tried to follow when for years they were wiretapping Americans and everybody else without a warrant," Leahy said.

On the fired U.S. attorneys, Leahy said, "The bottom line is in the U.S. attorney investigation, we have people manipulating law enforcement. Law enforcement can't be partisan."

Leahy predicted the White House and Congress could find a compromise, suggesting that sessions with White House officials that are under oath and transcribed would be acceptable. The White House has allowed only for interviews that are neither under oath nor transcribed.

"They've always found a way to ... get the information Congress is entitled to," Leahy said of previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

But if the White House continues to assert executive privilege, he said, the next step for Congress is to determine whether the claim is legitimate. "Based on the court cases," it is not, he said. If his colleagues agree, the Judiciary Committee and Congress will have to vote on whether to hold Bush in contempt, and if they vote in the affirmative, the case will be relayed to the U.S. attorney for prosecution.

Original Text