Democrats mull 'criminal contempt' charges for White House in 'Attorneygate' probe
A Democratic Congressman who is helping to lead the investigation into the firing of 8 US Attorneys by the Justice Department made it clear he was contemplating contempt charges if the White House ignores subpoenas that were issued by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week.
"Both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees have issued subpoenas to the White House and several former White House officials for documents and testimony in the controversy that's before us," Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stated in a Thursday hearing. "And we're still hopeful that they may cooperate. But it is possible that enforcement action may need to be taken."
Conyers continued, asking Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty how he would go about supporting any need for enforcement actions.
"Would you help us bring charges of criminal contempt if these subpoenas are resisted? Because that may likely be the next step," he said to McNulty.
The Deputy Attorney General stated that he would need to recuse himself from the considerations, as he is participating in the current investigation.
According to a Thursday report in Roll Call, "If the House passes a contempt motion — a rare occurrence — the matter would, ironically, be referred to the U.S. attorney of the District of Columbia. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would then be charged with enforcing the motion."
As the Attorney General and his top deputy have both recused themselves from many matters in the US Attorneys controversy due to the Justice Department's internal investigation, the next officer in the department's hierarchy is the Solicitor General, Paul Clement.
The current round of subpoenas set a deadline of June 28 for compliance. The subpoenas seek White House documents and testimony from two former White House staff: Harriet Miers, once Bush's Counsel, and Sara Taylor, who served as Karl Rove's top deputy.
White House Counsel Fred Fielding has generally stated that Bush's staff are protected by executive privilege from the Congressional probe, and has only offered off the record interviews with the Judiciary Committees' targets. The Judiciary Committees' chairmen have rejected the offers.