Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is issuing subpoenas to political operatives at the White House for documents and testimony related to the Committeeâs ongoing investigation into the mass firings of U.S. Attorneys and politicization of hiring and firing within the Department of Justice. This is not a step I take lightly. For over four months, I have exhausted every avenue seeking the voluntary cooperation of Karl Rove and J. Scott Jennings, but to no avail. They and the White House have stonewalled every request. Indeed, the White House is choosing to withhold documents and is instructing witnesses who are former officials to refuse to answer questions and provide relevant information and documents.
We have now reached a point where the accumulated evidence shows that political considerations factored into the unprecedented firing of at least nine United States Attorneys last year. Testimony and documents show that the list was compiled based on input from the highest political ranks in the White House, including Mr. Rove and Mr. Jennings. The evidence shows that senior officials were apparently focused on the political impact of federal prosecutions and whether federal prosecutors were doing enough to bring partisan voter fraud and corruption cases. It is obvious that the reasons given for these firings were contrived as part of a cover up and that the stonewalling by the White House is part and parcel of that same effort. Just yesterday during his sworn testimony, Mr. Gonzales contrasted these firings with the replacement of other United States Attorneys for âlegitimate cause.â
The White House has asserted blanket claims of executive privilege, despite testimony under oath and on the record that the President was not involved. The White House refuses to provide a factual basis for its blanket claims. The White House has instructed former White House officials not to testify about what they know and instructed Harriet Miers to refuse even to appear as required by a House Judiciary Committee subpoena. The White House has withheld relevant documents and instructed other witnesses not to produce relevant documents to the Congress but only to the White House.
Last week, the White House did much to substantiate the evidence that it is intent on reducing United States Attorneys and federal law enforcement to merely another partisan political aspect of its efforts when it dispatched an anonymous senior official to take the position that the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia would not be permitted to follow the statutory mechanism to test White House assertions of Executive privilege by prosecuting contempt of Congress. In essence this White House asserts that its claim of privilege is the final word, that Congress may not review it, and that no court can review it.
Yesterday, during an oversight hearing with Mr. Gonzales, the senior Senator from Pennsylvania, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee rightly asked:
âMr. Attorney General, do you think constitutional government in
the United States can survive if the president has the unilateral
authority to reject congressional inquiries on grounds of executive
privilege and the president then acts to bar the Congress from getting
a judicial determination as to whether that executive privilege is
There can be no more conclusive demonstration of this Administrationâs partisan intervention of federal law enforcement than if this Administration were to instruct the Justice Department not to pursue congressional contempt citations and intervene to prevent a United States Attorney from fulfilling his sworn constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws and proceed pursuant to section 194 of title 2 of the United States Code. The President recently abused the pardon power to forestall Scooter Libby from ever serving a single day of his 30-month sentence for conviction before a jury on multiple counts of perjury, lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice. Stonewalling this congressional investigation is further demonstration that this Administration refuses to abide by the rule of law.
This stonewalling is a dramatic break from the practices of every administration since World War II in responding to congressional oversight. In that time, presidential advisers have testified before congressional committees 74 times voluntarily or compelled by subpoenas. During the Clinton Administration, White House and Administration advisors were routinely subpoenaed for documents or to appear before Congress. For example, in 1996 alone, the House Government Reform Committee issued at least 27 subpoenas to White House advisors. The veil of secrecy this Administration has pulled over the White House is unprecedented and damaging to the tradition of open government by and for the people that has been a hallmark of the Republic.
The investigation into the firing for partisan purposes of United States Attorneys, who had been appointed by this President, along with an ever-growing series of controversies and scandals have revealed an Administration driven by a vision of an all-power Executive over our constitutional system of checks and balances, one that values loyalty over judgment, secrecy over openness, and ideology over competence.
What the White House stonewalling is preventing is conclusive evidence of who made the decisions to fire these federal prosecutors. We know from the testimony that it was not the President. Everyone who has testified said has said that he was not involved. None of the senior officials at the Department of Justice could testify how people were added to the list or the real reasons that people were included among the federal prosecutors to be replaced. Indeed, the evidence we have been able to collect points to Karl Rove and the political operatives at the White House.
A former political director at the White House made a revealing admission in her recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee when she refused to answer questions citing the oath she took to the President. In this constitutional democracy, the oath taken by public officials is to the Constitution, not any particular President of any particular party. The Constitution itself provides the oath of office of the President. Every President since George Washington has shown to âpreserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.â The oath for other federal official is prescribed by Congress through statute and provides that every federal officerâs duty is not to support and defend any particular President or Administration but âto support and defend the Constitution of the United Statesâ and âto bear true faith and allegianceâ to our founding principles and law.
I pointed out to Ms. Taylor that the oath I have been privileged to take as a United States Senator is likewise to the Constitution. I proudly represent the people of Vermont. I know it is a privilege to serve as a temporary steward of the Constitution and the values and protections for the rights and liberties of the American people that it embodies. My oath is not to a political party and not even to the great institution of the United States Senate, but to the Constitution and the rule of law. As a former prosecutor, I feel strongly that independent law enforcement is an essential component of our democratic government, and that no one is above the law.
Despite the constitutional duty of all members of the Executive branch to âtake Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,â the message from this White House is that the President, Vice President, and their loyal aides are above the law. No check. No balance. No accountability.
The law says otherwise. The criminal contempt statute, 2 U.S.C. Â§ 194, provides that if a House of Congress certifies a contempt citation, the United States Attorney to whom it is sent has a âdutyâ and âshallâ âbring it before the grand jury for its action.â For this White House to threaten to intervene in an effort to preempt further investigation, cover up the truth and avoid accountability is an insult to the rule of law. This law was duly passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by a duly elected President of the United States. It is derived from law that has been on the books since 1857, for 150 years.
The Bush-Cheney White House continues to place great strains on our constitutional system of checks and balances. Not since the darkest days of the Nixon Administration have we seen efforts to corrupt federal law enforcement for partisan political gain and such efforts to avoid accountability.
Given the stonewalling by this White House, the American people are left to wonder: What is it that the White House is so desperate to hide? As more and more stories leak out about the involvement of Karl Rove and his political team in political briefings of what should be nonpartisan government offices, I think we have a better sense of what they are trying to hide. We have learned of political briefings at over 20 government agencies, including briefings attended by Justice Department officials. This week, the news was that Mr. Rove briefed diplomats on vulnerable Democratic districts before mid-term elections. Why, Senator Whitehouse properly asked at our hearing yesterday, were members of our foreign service being briefed on domestic political contests? Mr. Gonzales had no answer. Similarly, why were political operatives giving such briefings to the Government Services Administration, which rents government property and buys supplies? In her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the former political director at the White House ultimately had to concede that her briefings included specific political races and particular candidates being targeted.
In this context, is anyone surprised that the evidence in our investigation of the firings of U.S. Attorneys for political purposes points to Mr. Rove and his political operations in the White House? Despite the initial White House denials, Mr. Roveâs involvement in these firings is indicated by the Department of Justice documents we have obtained and from the testimony of high-ranking Department officials. This evidence shows that he was involved from the beginning in plans to remove U.S. Attorneys. E-mails show that Mr. Rove initiated inquires at least by the beginning of 2005 as to how to proceed regarding the dismissal and replacement of U.S. Attorneys. The evidence also shows that he raised political concerns, including those of New Mexico Republican leaders, about New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias that may have led to his dismissal. He was fired a few weeks after Mr. Rove complained to the Attorney General about the lack of purported âvoter fraudâ enforcement cases in his jurisdiction.
We have learned that Mr. Rove raised similar concerns with the Attorney General about prosecutors not aggressively pursuing voter fraud cases in several districts and that prior to the 2006 mid-term election he sent the Attorney Generalâs chief of staff a packet of information containing a 30-page report concerning voting in Wisconsin in 2004. This evidence points to his role and the role of those in his office in removing or trying to remove prosecutors not considered sufficiently loyal to Republican electoral prospects. Such manipulation shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes.
Documents and testimony also show that Mr. Rove had a role in the shaping the Administrationâs response to congressional inquiries into these dismissals, which led to inaccurate and misleading testimony to Congress and statements to the public. This response included an attempt to cover up the role that he and other White House officials played in the firings.
Despite the stonewalling and obstruction, we have learned that Todd Graves, U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Missouri was fired after he expressed reservations about a lawsuit that would have stripped many African-American voters from the rolls in Missouri. When the Attorney General replaced Mr. Graves with Bradley Schlozman, the person pushing the lawsuit, that case was filed and ultimately thrown out of court. Once in place in Missouri though, Mr. Schlozman also brought indictments on the eve of a closely contested election, despite the Justice Department policy not to do so. This is what happens when a responsible prosecutor is replaced by a âloyal Bushieâ for partisan, political purposes.
Mr. Schlozman also bragged about hiring ideological soulmates. Monica Goodling likewise admitted âcrossing the lineâ when she used a political litmus test for career prosecutors and immigration judges. Rather than keep federal law enforcement above politics, this Administration is more intent on placing its actions above the law.
With our service of these subpoenas, I hope that the White House takes this opportunity to reconsider its blanket claim of executive privilege, especially in light of the testimony that President was not involved in the dismissals of these U.S. Attorneys. I hope that the White House steps back from this constitutional crisis of its own making so that we can begin to repair the damage done by its untoward interference with federal law enforcement. That interference has threatened our elections and seriously undercut the American peopleâs confidence in the independence and evenhandedness of law enforcement. Mr. Rove and the White House must not be allowed to continue manipulating our justice system to pursue a partisan political agenda. Apparently, this White House would rather precipitate an unnecessary constitutional confrontation than do what every other Administration has done and find and accommodation with the Congress. If there are any cooler or wiser heads at the White House, I urge them to reconsider the course they have chosen.
There is a cloud over this White House and a gathering storm. I hope they will reconsider their course and end their cover up so that we can move forward together to repair the damage done to the Department of Justice and the American peopleâs trust and confidence in federal law enforcement.