Friday, November 30, 2007


Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has decided it's time to stand up to the White House, according to an article in today's NY Times. He's picked an interesting subject and an interesting time to do so.

The Senate Judiciary Committee inched forward Thursday in its struggle with the White House over subpoenas demanding information from current and former Bush administration officials about the firing of several United States attorneys last year.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said he was formally rejecting White House claims that the subpoenaed officials, including President Bush’s chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, were protected by executive privilege from being compelled to cooperate with an investigation into whether the prosecutors were fired for political reasons.

By rejecting the administration’s claims, Mr. Leahy took the next procedural step toward seeking to enforce the subpoenas in court, a step that could require the intervention of the new attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, who has suggested that he wants a better relationship with Congress than was built by his predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales.

Judiciary Committee aides said the panel would soon vote on contempt citations for the administration officials. But even if the citations are ultimately approved by the committee and then the full Senate, it remains unclear what happens next, since the administration has suggested that it will not allow the Justice Department to go to court to enforce the subpoenas. Customarily, Congressional subpoenas are enforced by the department on behalf of the House or the Senate.
[Emphasis added]

The claim of White House privilege is a tricky one, since I suppose an argument can be made that it is necessary for a free and open exchange of information on policy matters facing the president. However, when the privilege is claimed solely to hide evidence of criminal behavior (in this case, an attempt to control elections), then it has to be rejected.

And, as I said earlier, the timing is interesting, and not just because we are in the midst of another election cycle. The Senate has just confirmed Michael Mukasey as the new Attorney General because, even if he refused to state that water boarding was torture and therefore illegal, he was independent-minded. Here's the first test of that theory, especially since the administration has suggested that the Justice Department will not be allowed to enforce the subpoenas.

Before we even get to that point, however, the Judiciary Committee must vote on the contempt citations, as must the whole Senate. Is this finally the issue that will force the current Senate to push back hard against the Unitary President?

Given the actions over the past year, I am not optimistic.

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