A House Judiciary Subcommittee voted yesterday to issue Contempt of Congress charges against former White House Counsel Harriet Miers after she refused to comply with the committee’s subpoena compelling her testimony in the U.S. Attorney scandal.
Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have issued subpoenas for former senior White House aides regarding their role and the role of other White House officials in the firing of U.S. Attorneys last fall.
Following the Congressional subpoenas, President Bush invoked executive privilege by directing the officials to refuse to appear before Congress.
This conflict between the powers and privileges of the legislative and executive branches appears headed for a major show-down in the courts.
From the Washington Post:
“Legal experts and those who have worked in previous administrations say the Bush administration’s claims may not be more broad than those asserted by other presidents. But they said the administration’s position rests largely on a limited number of court decisions and on assertions made by previous administrations that were never fully tested in the courts…”In the Miers case, the next step could be a finding of contempt by the full Judiciary Committee, followed by a vote to issue a contempt citation by the full House. That might in turn trigger grand jury deliberations under the supervision of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.”
It’s hard to know whether a majority of the House would agree to vote for a contempt resolution. It seems unlikely that any House Republicans would take that extreme a step, and a number of moderate Democrats might view it as too harsh as well. However, it is one thing to invoke executive privilege and refuse to answer questions – as former White House Political Affairs Director did this week – it is quite another thing to refuse to appear altogether. It is conceivable that the distinction between Miers’s and Taylor’s actions could lead enough House members to insist that Miers be held accountable for not complying with the Congressional subpoena.
Should she be held in contempt? If not, what would that mean for Congress’s ability to investigate the executive branch in general (say, if the political tables were turned)?