Judiciary Committee OK's contempt citations
Boston Globe
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post
July 26, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to issue contempt citations for two of President Bush's closest aides, moving nearer to a constitutional confrontation with the White House over access to information about the dismissal of nine US attorneys.

The panel voted along party lines, 22 to 17, to issue citations to Joshua Bolten, White House chief of staff, and Harriet Miers, former White House counsel. Both refused to comply with committee subpoenas after Bush declared that documents and testimony related to the prosecutor firings are protected by executive privilege.

"If we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena does not even have to bother to show up . . . then we have already lost," committee chairman John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, said before the vote. "We won't be able to get anybody in front of this committee or any other."

The vote represents the first concrete step toward finding Bolten and Miers in criminal contempt of Congress. The issue will next go before the entire House, and if approved the citations could be referred to the US attorney for the District of Columbia. But a floor vote appears unlikely before the House recesses for its summer break, at the end of next week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said she hopes the vote would "help the administration see the light" on its privilege claims.

Contempt of Congress is a federal misdemeanor, punishable by as much as one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Previous contempt votes against officials in other administrations were settled by compromise, but officials on both sides have warned that resolution may be elusive this time.

A Pelosi aide confirmed a floor vote is unlikely until after Labor Day, giving Congress and the current White House counsel, Fred Fielding, more than a month to negotiate a settlement.

The Bush administration has said that it will block the prosecution of any contempt charges. A presidentially appointed US attorney, they said, cannot flout a president's determination that materials and testimony are protected.

White House spokesman Tony Snow responded in strong terms: "Now we have a situation where there is an attempt to do something that's never been done in American history, which is to assail the concept of executive privilege, which hails back to the administration of George Washington, and, in particular, to use criminal contempt charges against the White House chief of staff and the White House legal counsel."

The attorney for Miers, George Manning of Atlanta, did not return a telephone message left at his office yesterday.

Republicans on the panel argued strongly against the citations, and Democrats shot down two proposed GOP amendments.

"I believe this is an unnecessary provocation," said Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin. "Absent showing that a crime was committed . . . the White House is going to win an argument in court."

Sensenbrenner, the judiciary panel's former chairman, said lawmakers should instead have filed a lawsuit challenging Bush's executive privilege claim. But Conyers said the administration had provoked the battle by offering only private, off-the-record interviews of presidential adviser Karl Rove and other aides about their roles in the removal of the prosecutors.

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

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