Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rep. Conyers' Response to White House Rejection of Subpoenas

From the (apologies for the lengthy quote) Detroit Free Press:

White House counsel Fred Fielding said neither the documents nor the testimony would be forthcoming, saying the decision to withhold the information "rests upon a bedrock presidential prerogative: for the president to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisors and between those advisers and others."
Fielding noted that the administration had already released thousands of pages and documents and would have allowed senior staff to testify under certain conditions. But Conyers and Leahy have said those conditions – that the discussions be private and no transcript be taken – would have hampered the investigation instead of moving it forward.
In his response to Fielding’s letter, Conyers said the president showed "an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government."
"The executive privilege assertion is unprecedented in its breadth and scope, and even includes documents that the administration previously offered to provide as part of their ‘take it or leave it’ proposal," said Conyers, in a prepared statement. "This response indicates the reckless disrespect this administration has for the rule of law."
Conyers succinctly explains why the claim of executive privilege is bunk, in that the subpoenas issued included "documents that the administration previously offered to provide"...And I think this quote, from Fred Fielding's official response to the subpoenas, is just more chaff thrown into the air:
"...Further, it remains unclear precisely how and why your committees are unable to fulfill your legislative and oversight interests without the unfettered requests you have made in your subpoenas," Fielding said. "Put differently, there is no demonstration that the documents and information you seek by subpoena are critically important to any legislative initiatives that you may be pursuing or intending to pursue."
Shorter Fielding: Investigating FISA and Hatch Act violations aren't 'legislative' activities in a strict definition of the word legislate...and that all the subpoenas are is a "fishing expedition" instead of an established exercise of Congressional authority.

This question still remains unanswered by the White House: If nothing wrong happened, then why not release the documents and allow testimony?...Which should be followed up by the question: Why did the White House include some documents in an earlier offering and then later claim those same documents fell under 'executive privilege'?

Side note: Here's what could happen in a Contempt of Congress charge:

- Inherent Contempt, where the subject cited is brought before Congress, held to answer charges, and punished. This hasn't been done in 70 years, but in my very non-legal-expert opinion, this is probably the route the House will have to take if they are serious about oversight and accountability in general.
- Statutory Contempt, where the citation is referred to the US Attorney for action. Given the current occupant of that office, there just might be an issue with the enforcement of the citation.
- Civil Action where Senate calls upon the federal district court to issue an order to comply with the subpoena...if that fails, then the subject is cited for contempt of court. This route has limited application.

There is some hope, however...Most of the Contempt of Congress citations over the past two decades have resulted in the requested documentation being turned over to Congress, and the courta have established precedent to draw their conclusions from.

Then again, established precedent has been taking a beating lately, hasn't it?