White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, showed their utter disregard for Congress, the Constitution and the American people when they defied Congressional subpoenas in the United States attorneys scandal. The House Judiciary Committee rightly voted to hold them in contempt, and now the matter goes to the full House.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi should schedule a vote quickly, the House should hold them in contempt and Attorney General Michael Mukasey should ensure that they are punished for their defiance of the nation’s law.
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten in connection with its investigation of the purge of nine top federal prosecutors and other apparent malfeasance in the Justice Department. Invoking executive privilege, Ms. Miers refused to appear and Mr. Bolten refused to turn over critical documents.
They had no right to refuse. Congress has the legal power to call witnesses to testify, and presidential advisers are not exempt. Conservative lawyers like Bruce Fein agree that the administration’s claims of executive privilege are baseless. If the White House believes specific matters are privileged, it needs to make those limited claims.
Such defiance is not only illegal, it has seriously obstructed Congress’s ability to get to the bottom of the United States attorneys scandal. It now appears that the scandal reaches beyond the nine federal prosecutors who were fired for refusing to allow their offices to be politicized. It seems quite possible that others, including Georgia Thompson, a civil servant in Wisconsin, and Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama, were put in prison — and Mr. Siegelman remains there — to help Republicans win elections.
Just as important, by ignoring valid Congressional subpoenas, Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten are dangerously challenging Congress’s power — and the careful system of checks and balances established by the founders.
The Judiciary Committee voted in favor of contempt in July and issued its final report 10 days ago. The full House should vote without further delay. If a majority supports a finding of contempt, as it should, the matter would go to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. If Mr. Mukasey, the new attorney general, believes in the rule of law, he will see to it that Ms. Miers’s and Mr. Bolten’s cases are presented to a grand jury for criminal prosecution.
The Bush administration’s days are numbered. But the damage it has done to the balance of powers could be long-lasting. If Congress wants to maintain its Constitutional role, it needs to stand up for itself. A good place to start is by making clear that its legitimate investigative authority cannot be defied, and any who choose to do so will pay a heavy price.