No Comment — February 15, 2008, 8:06 am

Congress Cites Bolten and Miers for Contempt–But Is the Issue Really Impeachment?

It’s been seven months since the Judiciary Committee subpoenaed White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to appear and give evidence in connection with hearings into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in December 2006. In July the Judiciary Committee quickly voted to cite them for contempt. And then the matter stagnated for many months as the House leadership conferred with White House lawyers about a solution. The White House reportedly said it would offer up Miers and Bolten only if they testified behind closed doors and not under oath, and with the understanding that no transcript of their remarks would be made. But most tellingly, the White House took the position that the scope of examination would be narrowly tailored so as to exclude precisely the subject matter of the inquiry: Did White House staffers interfere with prosecutors for partisan political reasons?

For instance, among the small volume of documents actually produced there are many which provide evidence of exactly that. On one document concerning the failure of Milwaukee U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic to bring “vote fraud” prosecutions, Karl Rove has scribbled a note “Discuss w/Harriet.” In fact we know that Biskupic was on the “to-fire” list. He then began to bring a series of politically motivated prosecutions, including the case against Georgia Thompson that the Seventh Circuit dismissed as “preposterous.” And Biskupic then disappeared from the “to-fire” list. So what discussions Rove had with Miers are right at the heart of the inquiry. But the White House offer ruled that off limits. That was obviously unacceptable.

The matter seemed almost forgotten. But today it suddenly lept back onto the front page. The House issued contempt sanctions against the pair on a vote of 223-32; it also authorized a civil suit to enforce the contempt sanction, as Attorney General Mukasey previously stated he would refuse to fulfill his statutory duty to enforce the contempt sanction.

Since the Bush Justice Department views Congress’s contempt powers with contempt and has offered the White House an extraordinary opinion vouching for its right to thumb their nose at Congressional subpoenas, why has the House taken this step? After all, it’s plain that Bolten and Miers will not appear; the White House will not permit them or any other senior figures with knowledge of the U.S. Attorneys scandal (particularly Karl Rove) to speak before Congress. Moreover, assuming Congress proceeds to enforce its subpoenas by suit, the court process will not end before January 20, 2009, as Bush and Co. decamp from Washington. And why did the Congressional Republicans react in such a dramatic fashion? Minority Leader Boehner gave a dramatic statement and then led the Republicans (or all but a few dozen of them) in a march out of the chamber.

It’s possible to view all of this as a sort of tempest in a teapot. And in the end it may turn out to be just that. But all the Sturm und Drang that surrounded today’s motion points to very hardball politics. I believe that Judiciary Committee Chair Conyers decided to plow ahead on this front for a specific reason.

The Department of Justice’s internal investigation into the December 7 firings is coming to a conclusion. I am told that it is highly likely that this investigation will conclude that the decision to fire New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was clearly motivated by improper reasons. Iglesias resisted efforts by members of the New Mexico Congressional delegation (including Heather Wilson, who joined Boehner in his infantile march to the Capitol steps) to get him to bring a prosecution of a prominent Democrat in the weeks just before the 2006 elections in order to help influence the results. Being rebuffed by Iglesias, the New Mexico Republicans went to the people they knew pulled the prosecutorial strings all across the country: Karl Rove and his staff in the White House. And that path led to Iglesias’s firing.

The investigation into the firing of the U.S. Attorneys in Phoenix, Seattle and San Diego is showing similar signs of improper tampering with prosecutions by White House figures for partisan political reasons.

I am betting that Conyers is pretty well informed about all of this and is awaiting the release of the internal Justice Department study, just as the White House and its political cronies in Justice are busily attempting to throw sticks in the spokes of the investigation to slow it down and delay the issuance of a final report with recommendations.

Now the Justice Department’s investigation focuses only on Alberto Gonzales, Paul McNulty and a handful of other senior political appointees, almost all of whom have left. It does not have the jurisdiction to address staffers in the White House like Rove, Miers and Bolten, nor indeed, President Bush.

But they are clearly within the jurisdictional remit of the Judiciary Committee. Moreover, if the Justice Department’s report implicates not just Rove, Miers and Bolten, but also Bush in the decision to fire for improper reasons—a conclusion which is now looking extremely likely—then it will be up to Conyers’s committee to press the investigation forward. In so doing, he is entitled to conduct hearings on the footing of impeachment. If he does, the executive privilege objection interposed by the White House and backed in another Constitution-defying opinion of the Attorney General, would not apply.

My guess is that the chess players are thinking several steps ahead of the game. It may or may not come to the sort of inquiry I am envisioning—that will depend in the first instance on the Justice Department’s own internal conclusions, and the pressure for the Justice Department to simply whitewash the matter may prove irresistible. But if it does come to a pointed inquiry into criminal conduct in the Oval Office relating to the dismissals, Conyers and his Committee want to be in a position to demonstrate that they have exhausted the other remedies—subpoenas and contempt citations—and have been stymied by the White House. In a sense, the White House will be forcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry by its own intransigence.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Neoliberal Arts

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Season 5 of Louie (FX), Louie is a new kind of superhero. Like Wonder Woman, the canonical superhero he most resembles, Louie’s distinctive superpower is love.”
Illustration by Demetrios Psillos
Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.

In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today