International Herald Tribune Editorial - The imperial presidency
Copyright bhy The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 26, 2007
The judiciary committee of the House of Representatives did its duty Wednesday, voting to cite Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, and Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff, for contempt. The Bush administration has been acting lawlessly in refusing to hand over information that Congress needs to carry out its responsibility to oversee the executive branch and investigate its actions when needed. If the White House continues its obstruction, Congress should use all of the contempt powers at its disposal.
The committee really had no choice but to hold Miers in contempt. When she was subpoenaed to testify about the administration's possibly illegal purge of nine U.S. attorneys, she simply refused to show up, citing executive privilege. Flouting a congressional subpoena is not an option.
Bolten has refused to provide Congress with documents it requested in the attorney purge investigation, also citing executive privilege. Together, Miers' and Bolten's response to Congress has simply been: "Go away."
The Supreme Court has held that a president's interest in keeping communications private must be balanced against an investigator's need for them. In this case, the president's privacy interest is minimal, since the White House has said he was not involved in purging the U.S. attorneys. Congress' need for the information, though, is substantial. It has already turned up an array of acts by administration officials that may have been criminal.
Congress must not capitulate in the White House's attempt to rob it of its constitutional powers. Now that the committee has acted, the whole House must vote to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt. The administration has indicated that it is unlikely to allow the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to bring Congress' contempt charges before a grand jury. In that case, Congress can and should proceed against Miers and Bolten on its own, using its inherent contempt powers.
It is not too late for President Bush to spare the country the trauma, and himself the disgrace, of this particular constitutional showdown. There is a simple way out. He should direct Miers and Bolten to provide Congress with the information to which it is entitled.