Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to the White House, to Vice President Dick Cheney?s office and to the Justice Department in a last-ditch effort to investigate the National Security Agency?s policy of wiretapping without warrants.
As the New York Times observed this morning, ?The Democrats have largely focused on objections to the Iraq war in their first months in power.? However, the NYT said, former deputy attorney general James Comey opened the door for Democrats to argue on the legal issues of wiretapping rather than on the merits of monitoring phone calls. (Comey told about a hospital bedside confrontation between Justice Department officials and White House aides over the legality of the wiretapping program. ) As Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, ?it was Comey?s testimony that moved this (the legality of wiretapping) front and center.? Schumer said alarm bells went off because it became clear the Justice Department had tried to circumvent the law.
So add the wiretapping debacle to the Bush administration?s mounting legal problems.
The Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas two weeks ago to Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor regarding the dismissals of federal prosecutors dismissals. The NYT said, ?If the White House fails to produce the material, the House and Senate could begin a process leading to contempt resolutions to force compliance.?
And what does that mean?
CSpan?s website ?Capital Questions? says, ?Contempt of Congress is initiated by a resolution reported from the affected congressional committee which can cite any individual for contempt. The resolution must then be adopted by the House or Senate. If the relevant chamber adopts the contempt resolution recommended by one of its committees, the matter is referred to a U.S. Attorney for prosecution. The U.S. Attorney may call in a grand jury to decide whether or not to indict and prosecute. If prosecuted by the courts and found guilty of contempt, the punishment is presently set at up to one year in prison and/or up to $1,000 in fines.?
CSpan goes on to say, ?Contempt resolutions have most often been issued in two categories: (1) for reasons of refusing to testify or failing to provide Congress with requested documents or answers, and (2) bribing or libeling a Member of Congress. Contempt citations are limited to matters which relate to legislative purposes and which fall within the affected committee's established jurisdiction.?
The last contempt resolution was in 1982 against Anne Gorsuch, an administrator of the EPA. She was held in contempt for refusing to provide documents about the Superfund to the Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Representative John Dingell (D-MI). The Reagan White House negotiated an agreement that allowed access to the documents.
The idea of throwing Miers and Taylor in the pokey is brilliant. Going after Bush administration underlings will be more effective than going after Dick Cheney. Cheney may be able to stonewall Congress and the National Archives on the executive order regarding handling of classified documents. But underlings don?t have Cheney?s clout. Threatening people under Bush and Cheney with jail will make those canaries sing loudly and under oath on the malfeasance of higherups in the White House. James Comey was just the first in a very long line of people who enthusiastically will unburden themselves of every unsavory scrap of information they possess.
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