Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel, BFF of President Bush, and for about twenty minutes a nominee as a Supreme Court Justice, will not appear to testify in front of Congress today.
It is unclear how Congress will proceed in its legal showdown with the White House. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) warned Miers that she could face contempt charges for failing to appear, and Leahy said he has not ruled out a similar approach for Taylor. But other lawmakers said there is little appetite for such an approach. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the committee could seek a Senate vote on finding the White House as a whole in contempt of Congress.
House Democrats said they plan to go ahead with their hearing today without Miers, and will probably vote to authorize Conyers to issue subpoenas to the Republican National Committee for e-mails from White House officials such as Taylor who used e-mail accounts based in the RNC.
It’s one thing to appear in front of the Senate and claim executive privilege — or presidential intimidation — but it’s clearly something else when you defy a subpoena and basically give the Senate the finger.
And it’s not altogether clear that the White House has the right to claim executive privilege since, according to the testimony of Sara Taylor, former aide to Karl Rove, the president was not involved in any of the discussions about the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys.
Taylor, who left her job two months ago, said she had no knowledge that Bush was involved in the dismissals at all. “I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys,” Taylor said. “I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed.”
Democrats promptly said that her remarks could undermine Bush’s assertion that White House deliberations about the U.S. attorney firings are protected by executive privilege. Bush’s current counsel, Fred F. Fielding, had cited that prerogative — which generally applies to matters involving the president — in explaining why Bush had “directed” Taylor not to provide information about the deliberations to Congress.
That also still leaves open the question of who it was that came up with the list of names of the U.S. attorneys who were fired. So far, Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, Paul McNulty, Monica Goodling, and just about everyone else connected with the dismissals has said they don’t know who drafted the list…it just somehow magically appeared.
At the risk of being obvious, I think we all know who came up with the list and who passed it on to the Justice Department and told them to get rid of them: Karl Rove. It fits into his plan of ensuring a “permanent Republican majority,” he has a record of gaming the system and using voter intimidation, caging, and voting roll purges as his method of choice for winning elections…or ensuring that the other guy loses. (For some reason it never occurs to him and his crowd that putting up a Republican candidate with real ideas and solutions for the problems that face the country might be a more effective way of obtaining their goals, but where’s the thrill in that?) It was one of Mr. Rove’s assistants, Tim Griffin, who was put in place of Arkansas U.S. attorney Bud Cummins after a campaign of gossip and backstabbing by Rove’s minions (for the which Sara Taylor offered a too-little-too-late apology yesterday); it was clearly the hand of Rove guiding the New Mexico Republicans to get rid of David Iglesias in Albuquerque and more than likely the one who got Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson to call up Mr. Igleasias and try to muscle him into indicting Democrats for attempted vote fraud before the November elections. So now that the noose is tightening around the White House, Mr. Rove is trying to use the claim of executive privilege to keep Congress out. The problem, though, is that executive privilege can only be claimed if the president — the executive — is directly involved, and so far everyone is saying that the president had nothing whatsoever to do with the firings of the U.S. attorneys. As the Republicans were so quick to point out during the Starr investigation of the Clinton White House, you can’t claim executive privilege to cover everybody in the West Wing just because they have the presidential seal on their coffee cups, nor can you use it as a cover for illegal activities.
So far no one has said that there was anything illegal in the firing of the U.S. attorneys; after all, they serve at the pleasure of the president and he can do whatever he wants in appointing people to those posts. But if there was nothing untoward in the dismissal of these people, why is the White House going to such lengths to shut out the House and Senate in their investigation of the matter? Why can’t anyone say who came up with the list? Why did the White House staff feel that they had to use the RNC e-mail accounts to handle official business? (It’s also more than slightly ironic that the Republicans are the ones who say, when people protest against warrantless wiretaps and illicit FBI snooping, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, what have you got to be worried about?”) And did they learn nothing from their own obsessive and overzealous pursuit of Bill Clinton that turned an investigation into a failed land deal into an impeachment of the president for something that had nothing to do with the original investigation in the first place?
Or maybe they did. They saw what happened to Mr. Clinton and know all too well what happens when someone starts pulling the threads.
Update: Josh Marshall cites the law where it says that ignoring a subpoena is a felony.