House prepares to file contempt charges against Bush aides
Activists wonder whether move will work
Well-rested and back at work after a monthlong vacation, Congressional Democrats are preparing for a move in the House to approve criminal contempt citations against two Bush administration figures.
Democratic aides tell RAW STORY that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing to bring the contempt citations passed by the Judiciary Committee to the full House for a vote.
Pelosi has not determined a date for a vote but is "pretty certain" to push forward the contempt charges against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers, a leadership aide said. Bolten and Miers refused to respond to Congressional subpoenas last year requesting their testimony and documents related to the federal prosecutor purge scandal that resulted in Alberto Gonzales stepping down as Attorney General.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the contempt charges in July and Pelosi and Committee Chairman John Conyers believed there were enough votes for the measure to pass the House in October.
Judiciary Committee Republicans on Wednesday sent a letter to Pelosi asking her not to pursue the criminal charges, arguing the attorney firing investigation so far has failed to demonstrate any malfeasance by the administration.
"Rather than conclude the investigation, Democrats now plan to take this meaningless pursuit one step further," read the letter co-signed by ranking member Lamar Smith and nine other GOP judiciary panel members. "Bringing contempt charges against Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten is a waste of valuable time and would force a constitutional confrontation that is unwarranted."
Activists who have been following the case are wary about whether the contempt citations would compel White House compliance with the congressional probe. The Justice Department, under Gonzales, indicated it would not prosecute contempt charges against administration figures. President Bush has invoked executive privilege in justifying his administration's lack of cooperation.
"I would be surprised if [new Attorney General Michael] Mukasey would take a different position ... since the Bush White House seems to be directing this," Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told RAW STORY.
Sloan said the latest step from Congress may just be an opportunity to force current White House counsel Fred Fielding to moderate the administration's position.
"When these things have happened in the past, people have eventually caved," Sloan said, "and they've worked it out."
Democratic aides have previously said they don't expect any Republicans to cross the aisle in voting for the contempt charges to be filed.
Sloan lamented that this issue seems to have become more focused on partisan politics than institutional prerogatives. Regardless of political party, Congress need to be able to exercise its constitutional oversight, she said, and that includes calling on administration figures to testify.
"This is why everyone in Congress is so short-sighted. ... What if it is a president of a different party?" she said. "You really think if we had Hillary Clinton as president and this was the situation, Republicans wouldn't be screaming? Of course they would."