Top 'Attorneygate' investigator: No 'blind faith' for the White House
On a 7-3 ruling, House Democrats moved rapidly Thursday afternoon to rule that the White House had asserted executive privilege in a manner that was 'not legally valid.'
During the proceedings, a top House Democratic investigator of the firing of nine US Attorneys said that the White House's latest moves were not consistent with the current system of government in the United States. Another top Democrat accused the White House of turning over 'inaccurate' information about Karl Rove's role in the attorney firings.
The chair of the subcommittee that has authorized subpoenas in the investigation said that the White House was not deserving of 'blind faith.'
"The White House is asking Congress and the American people to simply trust on blind faith that the documents are appropriately being kept secret," said Rep. Linda Sánchez, Chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, during an approximately 20 minute hearing.
She added, "Our system of government does not allow the White House to demand this kind of blind faith and secrecy."
Rep. Sánchez then issued a ruling declaring that the White House's assertion of executive privilege over documents sought in subpoenas issued to former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and the Republican National Committee was not legally valid. The grounds for the ruling largely echoed a similar ruling delivered last week after former White House Counsel Harriet Miers refused to appear before the committee.
Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), in a prepared opening statement, outlined some of the wrongdoing he saw that required House investigators to continue to pursue subpoenas and other steps.
"We have learned, for example, that the White House was involved in the politicization of the Justice Department," Conyers stated. "New Mexico Republican officials complained repeatedly to Karl Rove and his aides about a voter fraud case that they wanted former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to pursue. Mr. Iglesias was fired soon after some of these complaints, and one of the complaining Republican officials was suggested as his replacement."
He went on to warn that "the White House participated in false statements to Congress."
"Chris Oprison in the Counsel's office signed off on an inaccurate letter that the Justice Department sent to Congress claiming that Karl Rove did not play a role in the appointment of Tim Griffin to replace Bud Cummins," he explained.
The committee's chairman also implied an effort was being taken to obstruct the investigation of the Attorneys' firings.
"We also have evidence of a concerted effort both by the Justice Department and the White House to hide or downplay the role of White House personnel in this process," he argued.
In a Tuesday letter sent to Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan, Conyers warned that the party organization may face contempt proceedings if it fails to abide by Rep. Sánchez's ruling today.
"If the RNC...engages in 'unilateral action' by simply refusing to comply with a House subpoena absent a court order, the refusal to produce the documents called for could subject Mr. Duncan to contempt proceedings," Rep. Conyers wrote.
A similar warning was issued regarding Bolten.
The subcommittee's Democrats did not raise the specter of contempt in Thursday's hearing, but that didn't stop committee Republicans from speaking out against taking such a step in the future.
"These games may be strangely entertaining to lawyers, press hounds, and academics, but they are not parlor games, and they promise no productive ends," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. "On the contrary, they pointlessly threaten to land in jail people who are asserting understandable claims to executive privilege."
However, Cannon also suggested that any contempt threat would have no power because it would not be upheld by the courts, and would in fact damage Congress's ability to conduct future investigations.
"We anticipate a court battle which I very much fear we will lose," he said. "By we, I mean Congress...we will perpetually undermine Congress's prerogatives in overseeing future administrations."
Harriet Miers also suggested in a Tuesday letter to Rep. Conyers via her attorney that she had little to fear from the threat of being held in contempt of Congress. Her attorney argued that the contempt of Congress statute would not apply to her.