Harriet Mier's Contempt of Congress

This post, written by John Dean, originally appeared on Find Law and then on The Smirking Chimp

President George Bush has issued an instruction to his former White House counsel Harriet Miers to defy the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena. The Committee had sought to ask her about her role - and that of others in the White House - in firing a covey of United States Attorneys who were apparently not toeing the political line. Bush's instruction sent a very clear signal: As I wrote earlier, and as has been clear from the outset, he is looking for a fight.

By not responding to the subpoena, the President and Ms. Miers all but invited the House Judiciary Committee and, in turn, the House of Representatives to vote to deem her in contempt of Congress. It was a defiant, in-your-face insult to Congress. No president would do this unless he was quite confident of the outcome. Clearly, Bush's White House and Justice Department lawyers believe that the solidly conservative federal judiciary will grant them a favorable ruling, and that, in the process, they will greatly weaken congressional oversight powers, to the advantage of the White House.

In short, the Bush White House is not bluffing with this act of defiance. Rather, the White House truly wants to test, and attempt to expand, presidential power. Bush's White House is ready, willing, and able to play hardball. Indeed, the White House may actually be trying to bait the House Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives into voting to deem Ms. Miers in contempt of congress.

The Initial Consequences of Harriet Miers's "No Show"

It was on Thursday, July 12, that Miers was asked to testify before the subcommittee investigating the removal of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Administration, and did not show. That same day, the subcommittee's Chair, Linda Sanchez (D.CA), undertook the preliminary steps necessary to declare Miers in contempt. By a party line vote of seven Democrats to five Republicans, the subcommittee ruled that there was no legal justification for Miers's failing to appear pursuant to the subpoena.

Notwithstanding this blatant affront to the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans members played their familiar role -- allowing party affiliation to trump institutional responsibility, just as it had when they controlled Congress. Republicans made lame (if not ridiculous) excuses for the Bush Administration's defiance, and proved themselves more than willing to let the President insult the subcommittee by instructing Miers to not show up. (The transcript of the proceeding is not available as I write but the information available from Firedoglake and Talking Points Memo indicates that Republicans embarrassed themselves as badly as did former White House aide Sara Taylor -- who kept telling the Senate Judiciary Committee, when she did honor a similar subpoena, that she had taken an oath to uphold the President, rather than the Constitution. House Republicans appear to have taken the same oath.)
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