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House judiciary panel approves contempt citations against White House aides

[JURIST] The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] on Wednesday voted in favor of issuing contempt of Congress citations [backgrounder; 2 USC Sec. 192] against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers [official profiles]. The citations now go to the full House, where representatives will decide whether to sanction the two for their refusal to comply with subpoenas to answer questions about the US Attorneys firing scandal [JURIST news archive]. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) [official website] said that the committee could find no reason not to pass the citations, saying that "If we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't even have to bother to show up, where privilege can be asserted on the thinnest basis and in the broadest possible manner, then we have already lost." In anticipation of the vote, Conyers prepared a report [Washington Post report] detailing an investigation that, according to Conyers, "has uncovered serious evidence of wrongdoing by the department and White House staff" in connection to the firings and the administration's handling of the ensuing investigation.

If the citations pass in the House, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia would be next to handle the issue. If found guilty, the two would be found to have committed a federal misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $100,000 and one-year imprisonment. Last week, however, the White House said that the administration would not allow [JURIST report] the Department of Justice to pursue any contempt charges brought against White House officials in the congressional investigation of the firings because the contempt charges would not be proper in light of the administration's assertion of executive privilege. The report prepared by House Democrats, however, provides a full legal justification as to how it would be possible to compel a federal prosecutor to override a presidential claim of executive privilege. Last Thursday, a panel of the House Judiciary Committee voted to proceed with contempt proceedings [JURIST report] against Miers after she ignored a subpoena ordering her to appear and testify before the committee. AP has more.

7:33 PM ET - The committee voted 22-17 in favor of the contempt resolution and an accompanying report [PDF text] "finding former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in statutory contempt of Congress for failing to respond to the Committee's subpoenas in the U.S. Attorney investigation." In a letter [PDF text; press release] to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Conyers wrote:

As I explained before the Committees' vote, I regret that the Committee has had to take this step, and continue to hope that we can resolve with you the Committee's need for information from the White House in our investigation. Indeed, as the Congressional Research Service noted in a recent report, in each of the eight cases in which House Committees alone have found executive branch officials in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas based on executive privilege since 1975, there was "full or substantial compliance with the demands of the committee" after the vote.
Conyers concluded:
If the White House continues to refuse to engage in any discussions beyond repeating its unacceptable "take it or leave it" offer, and if Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers continue to refuse to comply altogether with our subpoenas, we will have no choice but to enforce those subpoenas by all appropriate legal means. In our system of government, no one is above the law."

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