Final Warning for Administration
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The House Judiciary Committee sent a final warning to the White House yesterday to provide Democrats with access to disputed documents and testimony, pushing the House closer to a vote on contempt citations for two administration officials.
In a letter to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), gave the Bush administration until Friday to work out a deal on documents and testimony relating to last year's controversial removal of nine U.S. attorneys. If Fielding refuses the latest request, the House could vote as early as next week on the contempt charges, Democratic aides said.
The committee also filed a formal, 102-page contempt report with the House clerk that lays out its request for testimony from former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and for documents controlled by White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten.
Bush administration officials immediately signaled they do not intend to negotiate, arguing that internal deliberations involving Miers and Bolten are covered by executive privilege. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino accused Democrats of seeking to "waste time again on another diversion" rather than pass meaningful legislation.
"It's been very clear that this is a futile attempt on their part because they know that it won't go anywhere," Perino said.
The contempt threat comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to approve the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general. Mukasey is unlikely to back Congress in a contempt fight.
House Democratic leaders have spent the past 10 days trying to round up enough votes to secure a majority on the House floor for a contempt citation, aware that some Democrats from moderate to conservative districts may be wary of such a high-profile vote against President Bush.
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that "Congress has a stake and an interest in challenging that kind of unilateral action."
A contempt citation from the House would be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for prosecution. But Mukasey has made clear that he believes pursuing such a case would be improper, because it would require a U.S. attorney to argue against an executive privilege claim that the Justice Department has found to be valid.
Mukasey's nomination had been in doubt for two weeks over his refusal to say whether the use of an interrogation technique called waterboarding, which simulates drowning, amounts to torture under U.S. law.
The logjam was broken Friday when two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), said they would approve Mukasey. They said they believe he is the best candidate the Bush administration will offer to succeed Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general in September.
In addition to Feinstein and Schumer, all nine Republicans on the 19-member committee are expected to back Mukasey. Seven of the eight remaining Democrats have indicated they will vote no. A majority vote for approval will send the nomination to the full Senate, which likely will confirm Mukasey in a vote to be held by early next week.
In his letter, Conyers proposed a compromise in which the House Judiciary Committee would get access to communications between the White House and outside parties and would be allowed to review internal White House records on a confidential basis. The committee would then identify a subset of the internal records to be produced publicly, he wrote.
Finally, Conyers suggested, the panel would identify witnesses to be interviewed privately, in the same manner that Justice Department officials were made available as part of the congressional probe into the prosecutor firings and related issues.
"I very much hope that we can similarly avoid a constitutional confrontation in this case," Conyers wrote.