Friday, July 20, 2007

A new Bush power grab

The Washington Post has a new story about a massive new power grab by the Bush administration.

Specifically, they have now officially determined that they are above the law:

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

You will remember that the House Judiciary Committee is moving toward charging Bush officials with contempt of Congress for refusing to testify at committee hearings, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is moving in the same directiong, albeit with regard to other officials.

The question occurred to me, though, as it may have occurred to you, to wonder how Congress pursues contempt charges, since prosecutions are generally brought by the executive branch.

It turns out there is a federal law that applies to this situation.

Whenever a witness summoned as mentioned in section 192 of this title fails to appear to testify or fails to produce any books, papers, records, or documents, as required, or whenever any witness so summoned refuses to answer any question pertinent to the subject under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee or subcommittee of either House of Congress, and the fact of such failure or failures is reported to either House while Congress is in session or when Congress is not in session, a statement of fact constituting such failure is reported to and filed with the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, it shall be the duty of the said President of the Senate or Speaker of the House, as the case may be, to certify, and he shall so certify, the statement of facts aforesaid under the seal of the Senate or House, as the case may be, to the appropriate United States attorney, whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.

2 U.S.C.A. ยง 194

It's very clear: the duty to bring contempt of Congress charges is mandatory upon the Department of Justice--they have no discretion to fail or refuse to do so.

This isn't how the Bushies see it, though. "A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

In other words, the President is above the law.

This really seems like the most egregious corruption of government power since the Saturday Night Massacre.


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