Who Has Time for Contempt?

Views

Congress is busy with some pretty weighty issues these days: the faltering economy, Iraq and government surveillance just to name a few. And it seems that no one’s got the time to respond when the administration tells Congress to stick their subpoenas where the sun don’t shine.

Last summer, former White House counsel Harriet Miers didn’t even show up in response to a House Judiciary Committee subpoena for testimony related to the U.S. attorney firings. They got an empty chair (see above). The same went for Karl Rove in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both argued that executive privilege protected them from even appearing to invoke that privilege. The two committees also subpoenaed White House chief of staff Josh Bolten for documents and got nothing in return.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) promptly got a contempt citation passed in his committee for both Miers and Bolten in late July, shortly before the summer recess. But it’s not official until passed by the full House. When Congress returned, though, nothing happened. Then a vote was supposedly imminent in November — Conyers even issued a final warning to the White House. But then the vote didn’t come (Iraq and FISA got in the way, top Dems said). Then it was supposed to come shortly after the winter recess. Now, well, you know:

Senior Democrats have decided that holding a controversial vote on the contempt citations, which have already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, would “step on their message” of bipartisan unity in the midst of the stimulus package talks….

“Right now, we’re focused on working in a bipartisan fashion on [the] stimulus,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), indicating that the contempt vote is not expected for weeks, depending on how quickly the stimulus package moves….

“When we have the votes, we’ll go ahead with this. Right now, the votes are just not there,” said one top House Democratic insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Rove’s fate over in the Senate is also unclear. The committee finally passed contempt resolutions against Rove and Bolten last month, but no one has publicly promised anything as far as timing for a vote in the full Senate goes.

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told us last month, the court battle that’s likely to ensue after contempt citations (if they are ever passed) is likely to outlast the Bush administration. But the result of such a battle could determine if a future administration could get away with the same thing.