[JURIST] US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said Sunday that he is prepared to initiate a Senate vote to hold officials in the White House, the Vice President's office, and the Department of Justice in contempt of Congress if they refuse to cooperate with congressional subpoenas [JURIST report] issued in the investigation of the US Attorney firings controversy [JURIST news archive]. In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Leahy criticized [transcript] the White House's broad assertion of executive privilege [JURIST report] saying:
They have taken the attitude at the, at the White House that somehow they're above the law. They — if they make a decision that there's something they want to do, nobody should question them on it. The vice president's even been quoted as saying, "The courts can't question it. The Congress can't question it." That's a Nixonian attitude, and it's wrong.
In America, no one is above the law. The president and the vice president are not above the law any more than you and I are. And it is unfortunate they've taken this attitude because what it does it taints everything else. Look at the Department of Justice, look what has happened here. You have as an attorney general somebody—nobody has confidence in him. Republicans don't; Democrats don't. Most of the key members of the Department of Justice are resigning. In fact, just about a week ago one resigned rather than come and have to testify under oath. And I begin to wonder is it going to be a case of last person out of the building turn the lights off?
Leahy also renewed his rejection of the Bush administration's offer of providing unrecorded testimony with no oath behind closed doors, saying that "no Republican has said that's a good idea; [and] no Democrats said that." If White House officials are held in contempt of Congress [backgrounder], the US Attorney for the District of Columbia would have the responsibility of submitting charges before a grand jury. Even if the matter goes to court, however, it is unlikely to be resolved before President Bush's term expires at the end of 2008.
Leahy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), in a letter [PDF text] last Friday to White House counsel Fred Fielding, asked the White House to provide a legal basis [JURIST report] for its executive privilege claims by July 9. The White House is also currently facing subpoenas [JURIST report] from the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] seeking documents related to the warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.