Showdown at the DC Corral via The Hill
House Judiciary Committee Democrats warned yesterday they would pursue a contempt of Congress motion if the White House fails respond to subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the firings of U.S. attorneys last year.
The deadline for a response is Thursday, June 28. If the White House does not comply, it opens the possibility of a constitutional showdown between the two branches. In an ironic twist, the Department of Justice (DoJ) would be called on to enforce the contempt motion.
Folks, this ratchets things up to an entire new level because contempt of Congress is a criminal violation which can, and in some cases has, led to both fines of as high as $10,000 and prison terms as long as 6 months, plus 5 years probation (in the case of former EPA Offical Rita Lavelle who was convicted of Perjury in 2004)
More from Conyers.
"The House and Senate judiciary committees have issued subpoenas to the White House for documents and testimony," said Conyers. "We’re still hopeful they may cooperate. But it’s still possible that enforcement action may be taken."
"We want to know where the lines go from the DoJ to the White House," he said. "That’s where these bread crumbs keep leading us and then they get lost in the snow or something."
Right now the specific targets of the Contempt Charges would include White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, whom the subpoenas have been directed to, as well as former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and former White House political director - and Karl Rove Deputy - Sara "Cummins was Lazy" Taylor.
Although Taylor has accepted her subpoena and agreed to testify just why would Conyers want additional White House documents? Well, maybe because of what Kyle Sampson told them behind closed doors according to Karen Tumulty at Time.
In private testimony that is being released this afternoon by the commitee, Alberto Gonzales’s former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson told investigators that Gonzales himself initially resisted the idea of bypassing the Senators from Arkansas to install Karl Rove protege Tim Griffin as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Pressure to do it, he suggested, was coming from officials at the White House–specifically, White House political director Sara Taylor, her deputy Scott Jennings and Chris Oprison, the associate White House counsel. Sampson described himself and Goodling as "open to the idea," which is not the same as instigating it.
If Conyers' Judiciary Committee passes the contempt vote, the procedures is then for the measure to be referred to the full House - if it passes there as well it becomes a criminal matter, only this is also where things also get a bit sticky.
The standard procedure from this point is for the Contempt charges to be taken up by the sitting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who would then convene a Grand Jury prior to issueing indictments. That U.S. Attorney currently happens to be Jeffrey A. Taylor who was appointed by Alberto Gonzales as an interim replacement USA by-passing Senate Confirmation under a loophole in the Patriot Act (although it should be noted - no one was fired to make room for Taylor as his appointment took place in September of 2006, several months before the "purging of the Big 8".)
Unlike most of the replacement Attorneys, Taylor actually does have some prosecutorial experience from 5 years he spent as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. He's served as Majority Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee (under Senator Orrin Hatch and helped draft many provisions of the Patriot Act) and has been an Conselor at the DOJ assisting both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales on matters of "national security, terrorism, and criminal litigation and policy".
So would Mr. Taylor deign to actually call a Grand Jury to investigate various White House personnel for contempt of congress, when - to some extent - it might essentially involve an investigation of his own appointment!?
Wikipedia isn't so sure.
Under 2 U.S.C. § 194, once either the House or the Senate issues a citation for contempt of Congress, it is referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action." It is unclear (as of President Bush's March 20, 2007 declaration that he would not comply with Congressional subpoenas on this matter) whether Mr. Taylor would fulfill this duty to convene a grand jury, or resist Congress at the direction of Bush or Gonzales.
I'm less cynical about this since as I noted above, Taylor actually wasn't a part of the White House Purge and Politicize Plan for the DOJ apparently instigated Taylor, Jennings and Oprison (according to Sampson) - but we won't really know the truth of that until the rubber meats the road on this issue and the full Congress approves the contempt citation, assuming things even get that far.
But as of last week, questions about Taylor's loyalty - or lack thereof - to the rule of law might be a moot point. You see the Patriot Act provision which allowed for Mr. Taylor to be appointed and to remain U.S. Attorney indefinately - was repealed. The passage of this law started a 120 day countdown on the continued service of all intermin U.S. Attorneys including Taylor - who is now has only 113 days left. Once that time expires, and if another U.S. Attorney is not confirmed by the Senate and appointed - the new replacement won't be chosen by Gonzales, it'll be chosen by the District Court.
(c) A person appointed as United States attorney under this section may serve until the earlier of--
`(1) the qualification of a United States attorney for such district appointed by the President under section 541 of this title; or
`(2) the expiration of 120 days after appointment by the Attorney General under this section.
`(d) If an appointment expires under subsection (c)(2), the district court for such district may appoint a United States attorney to serve until the vacancy is filled. The order of appointment by the court shall be filed with the clerk of the court.'.
The DC District Court has a total of 13 Active Judges (plus a number of magistrates and senior judges), one of whom we all know happens to be Judge Reggie Walton, and exactly which of the 13 might have on his docket the task of replacing Mr. Taylor in October is somewhat unclear. But even if Taylor does decide to punt on any Contempt of Congress charges against the White House - where it should be pointed out he's never served - his court appointed successor probably won't.
Certainly the White House will counter sue arguing that this is a matter of "Executive Priveledge" which is a issue that will be argued by the Disrict Court in DC, previous attempts to avoid producing documents to Congress by the executive branch in this manner have not exactly gone well.
- A House Subcommitee voted to find Secretary of Commerce Roger Morton in Contempt in 1975 - Rogers eventually produced the requested documents.
- The Senate Select Committe on Intelligence voted to find Henry Kissenger in Contempt in 1975 also - the matter was dropped when the Chairman was satisfied by "sufficient compliance" with the subpoena.
- The House Subcommitte on Interstate and Foreign Commerce voted to find Secretary of Heath, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano in contempt in 1978 - Califano complied with the subpoena one month later.
- The Full House voted to find EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch in Contempt in 1983 - The Executive Branches counter suit was dismissed by the courts, and the documents were eventually provided.
- The Full House voted to find EPA Official Rita Lavelle in contempt in 1983 also - Lavelle was eventually imprisoned for lying to Congress involving mis-handling of the Superfund program.
- The House Government Reform and Oversight Committe voted to hold White House Counsel Jack Quinn, White House Director of Administration David Quinn and aide Matthew Moore in contempt in 1996 - the subpoened documents were provided just hours before the full house was to consider the contempt measure.
In most cases (that I've been able to review so far this morning), the Executive Branch has usually caved to Congressional pressure once we start talking about Contempt of Congress. Clearly that doesn't mean we can expect this White House to do that (when have they ever done what reasonable people expected?), but neither can they hope to have a Taylor as a nice Loyal Bushie in place to protect their backsides as the DC USA for all that much longer.
This game of Face-Off should get very interesting, very soon if this Judiciary Vote passes and begins to move to the House Floor.
Just how many White House Rat-fuckers do you think will by jumping Ship for the Immunity Rope once that happens?