Monday, July 09, 2007

Bush to Congress: "Since You Won't Agree To Let My Aides Lie To Your Oversight Committees, I'm Claiming Executive Privilege"

Bush goes from letting his aides (Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, Sara Taylor, et al) talk with the various oversight committees of Congress, "as long as they are not under oath, there is no transcript, audio- or videotape of the proceedings, and it's behind closed doors where the public can't watch/listen," to refusing to let them testify by claiming executive privilege.

In the parallel universe where the Constitution reigns supreme, Republicans are coalescing with Democrats behind an impeachment inquiry.

But we don't live there anymore.

The International Herald Tribune reports:
President George W. Bush, invoking executive privilege for the second time in his clash with lawmakers over the firing of federal prosecutors, said Monday that he would refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas for testimony from two top former aides.

In a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Bush's counsel, Fred Fielding, declared that the legislative and executive branches of government were at an impasse. Fielding wrote that Bush was directing the two aides - Sara Taylor, former White House political director, and Harriet Miers, former White House counsel - not to testify.

"The assertion of executive privilege here is intended to protect a fundamental interest of the presidency: the necessity that a president receive candid advice from his advisers and that those advisers be able to communicate freely and openly with the president," Fielding wrote.
He added that in the case of the firing of federal prosecutors, "the institutional interest of the executive branch is very strong."

The move was not unexpected.

Bush said last month that he had no intention of letting Miers or Taylor testify.

Bush offered at that time to allow the two women, as well as other top aides - including Karl Rove, his chief political strategist - to be interviewed by lawmakers if the interviews were not under oath and were not transcribed. Though Democratic leaders in Congress rejected that offer as insufficient, Bush renewed it Monday.

The latest refusal to comply with the subpoenas raises tensions in an already tense legislative-executive clash and heightens the likelihood that the two sides will wind up in court. Congressional Democrats are trying to determine who sought the firings of nine federal prosecutors, and why. They want to know whether White House officials, including Rove, interfered with hiring and firing decisions at the Justice Department for political reasons, or perhaps to thwart certain investigations.

Bush said in June that he would not comply with subpoenas for documents in the case. At that time, the committee chairmen - Representative John Conyers and Senator Patrick Leahy - wrote to Fielding to complain that Bush was not acting in good faith.

In his letter, Fielding complained about the tone and language the Democrats used, telling them he wanted to convey "a note of concern over your letter's apparent direction in dealing with a situation of this gravity."

Leahy was dismissive of Fielding's letter, saying in a statement: "This is more stonewalling from a White House that believes it can unilaterally control the other co-equal branches of government. What is the White House trying to hide by refusing to turn over evidence it was willing to provide months ago, as long as that information was shared in secret with no opportunity for Congress to pursue the matter further?"

Sara Taylor has been subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 11, 2007, and Harriet Miers has been subpoenaed for the following day. Sara Taylor has said that she wants to testify, and both are required to appear, no matter what Bush claims. It will be up to Taylor and Miers as to whether they will honor Bush's claim of executive privilege. And it will be up to Bush to go to court and get a restraining order prohibiting them from speaking to the committee.

Stay tuned.

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