advisers Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolton for contempt, for their refusal
to appear before the committee, which had issued them subpoenas, to
answer questions concerning the administration's firing of nine
Republican appointed federal prosecutors, a case which many believe will
lead to an expose of administration corruption and interference for its
own ideological reasons in the enforcement of federal law.
John Conyers, who ironically, has been criticized by sections of the
left for not using his leading position on the Judiciary Committee to
open impeachment proceedings against Bush, mentioned that he did not
take such contempt citations lightly, but that Congress could not
tolerate a situation where "our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where
a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't have to show up."
Conyers is acting very wisely and this case may very well be a major
building block on the road to an impeachment of Bush and other officials
of the executive branch. As many of our readers know, Hollywood writers
and directors, trade unionists, and others were cited for "contempt of
Congress" by HUAC and other agencies for standing on their first
amendment rights not to testify about their political associations. But
they, who were guilty of nothing except having political views and
assocations that HUAC was trying to search and destroy, showed up,
either to deny HUAC the right to question them(and then face contempt
charges and prision sentences ) or stand on their fifth amendment right,
which even HUAC "honored," even though such acts led to immediate
They were not government officials involved in any government policies.
At most, they were members of unions and other mass organizations whose
civil rights and civil liberties were under attack by all branches of
the government at the time. The committees which cited them for
contempt were very recent initially ad hoc committees established by the
conservative coalition in Congress to fight labor and the left, although
the cold war greatly increased their powers. Their "contempt" citations
were crude assaults on the constitutional rights of citizens. These
contempt citations are aimed at protecting the Constitutional Rights of
citizens and the constitution itself from a president and an
administration which denies that there is any limit on its powers.
The Judiciary Committee has been one of the major committees of the
House since the founding of the Republic and is engaged here in
investigating major malfeasance by the executive branch. "Guilt by
Association," the classic HUAC tactic, has nothing to do with what is
happening here. The Bush administration, by ordering Miers and Bolton
not to testify, in the name of "executive privilege," is denying to
Congress the right to investigate it use of its executive power in ways
that violate both the separation of powers and the enforcement of
federal law, which is what the Judiciary Committees of the House and
Senate are supposed to protect.
In the recent past, a number of federal officials, from Henry
Kissinger in the 1970s to Reagan's Secretary of the Interior James Watt
in the 1980s to Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno in the 1990s over
issues concerning refusal to turn over documents and conflicts in the
case of Reno over the appointment of a special prosecutor.
There is however a new development here that may lead to a
constitutional crisis. The Bush administration is denying that Congress
has the right to have a U.S. attorney convene a grand jury to prosecute
such contempt citations when executive privilege is involved, a
position, if sustained, would give the president the "right to do what
he wanted without congressional oversight and restraint by merely using
"executive privilege" as a shield and having the Justice Department
refuse to prosecute any contempt citation against any member of his
administration(interestingly enough, when a minor Reagan administration
official, Rita Lavelle, was unanimously voted to be in contempt of
Congress for refusing to testify before a congressional committee, a
grand jury was convened and she was tried for contempt of Congress).
John Conyers and the Democratic majority on the Judiciary Committee have
taken an important step in protecting the U.S. government and the people
from a president for whom the Constitution of the Republic is a
document to be used by spin doctors and political policeman when and
if it suits them. They deserve our complete and active support.