Democrats have votes to hold two White House officials in contempt by full House vote: report
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) are surveying the House Democratic caucus to determine whether it will support holding White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt for ducking subpoenas in the continuing investigation into the firing of nine US attorneys.
According to Bresnahan of Politico, Conyers said the contempt motion could be brought "as early as next week," but that Pelosi had not made a final decision on the vote, saying it would be more likely in two weeks.
Democrats believe they have the votes to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt, Bresnahan says. If a criminal contempt resolution passes, it would light new fires in a White House already struggling to stave off additional controversy. The House Judiciary Committee approved a contempt resolution after both failed to show up for a July hearing, but it was not brought to the House floor for a vote.
Senior Democratic aides told the site they'd be able to round up the 218 votes needed from their caucus. They expect Republicans to stand pat on their side of the aisle. Several Democratic lawmakers purportedly said under condition of anonymity that they'd been polled on the move and all said they'd back it if it came to the floor.
Conyers told Bresnahan he'd been in discussions with White House Counsel Fred Fielding to broker a compromise without success.
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Miers and Bolton June 13. Miers -- once tapped by President Bush to be a Supreme Court Justice -- was asked what her role was while serving in the White House; Bolton was called because he was supposed to have kept track of documents related to the mass firings.
If the full House approves the contempt charges, Miers and Bolton are still unlikely to face any criminal penalties. Before Alberto Gonzales resigned as Attorney General, the Justice Department informed the committee that it would not pursue criminal contempt charges against White House officials when executive privilege is invoked.
Democrats say the firings were politically motivated.
Conyers recommended contempt charges in July
The House Judiciary Committee formally recommended criminal contempt charges against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and chief of staff Joshua Bolten for their failure to comply with an investigation into the firings July 25.
The charges were presented in a resolution that, if passed by the House as a whole, would present a case for criminal proceedings to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.
Gonzales instructed the Justice Department not to purse the charges because the White House has invoked executive privilege. Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey has said the department could pursue charges if executive privilege claims were "unreasonable," but he hopes to avoid having to make such a decision. The House Judiciary Committee voted 22-17 along party lines to send the Democratic measure to the full House.
Brian A. Benczkowski, principal deputy assistant attorney general, sent a letter to Conyers citing the department's "long-standing" position, "articulated during administrations of both parties, that the criminal contempt of Congress statute does not apply to the president or presidential subordinates who assert executive privilege."
Conyers introduction of the resolution was accompanied by a 52-page report outlining the criminal charges against the administration officials.
Republicans sought to convince members of the majority not to get involved in a prolonged constitutional fight over executive privilege and accused Democrats of pursuing a partisan witch-hunt without basis in facts.
Democrats argued the contempt filing was necessary because of the disrespect with which the White House treated members of the committee.
"We have rolled over with every claim of executive privilege," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-FL), who called Miers snub of the committee "beyond the pale."
Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said the contempt charges were being sought "only as a last resort."
"What I am not open to is accepting a take-it-or leave it offer, which would not allow us access to the information we need ... this is the only proposal we have received from White House counsel," Conyers said.
Ranking Member James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said he thought the White House would prevail in court against criminal charges. Instead, he suggested a civil lawsuit that would focus narrowly on the claim of executive privilege in this particular case.
Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) said Democrats on the committee have offered no evidence of corruption and should not file contempt charges until they can prove inappropriate conduct within the White House.
Conyers said the lack of evidence was the fault of the White House for not cooperating, and explaining that that is exactly why the charges were being filed.
"We can't get to the evidence before we get to the witnesses and the documents that we've requested," Conyers said.
President Bush invoked executive privilege when refusing to allow Miers to appear before the committee. She did not show up to testify when called July 12; Bolton refused to hand over White House documents sought by Democrats on the committee.
Republicans said Bush is entitled to confidential advice from his aides, and Congress does not have the right to subvert their ability to have private conversations with advisers.
Conyers said the president has yet to "personally" invoke privilege and reminded the committee that testimony has yet to reveal whether Bush was directly involved in the decisions leading to the attorneys being fired.
Correction: Because of an editing error, an early edition of this article incorrectly stated that two more White House officials had been held in contempt. Contempt charges had been approved by the House Judiciary for both Miers and Bolten by Committee in July but not voted upon by the House.