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Here's our highlight reel of this morning's House Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Harriet Miers' very empty chair:



Subcommittee chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) ruled Miers' decision to abide by the White House's claim of executive privilege as invalid -- and was subsequently backed up by a party-line vote on the committee. That's the first step towards finding Miers in contempt -- the next would be a full vote in the committee.

To Democrats, the issue was simple. Miers was legally obligated to show up, and she didn't. As Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) put it, "Are Congressional subpoenas to be honored or are they optional?"

The Republicans on the committee responded with their usual accusations of Democratic overreaching and claims that the U.S. attorney firings investigation had uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing by the administration. But ranking member Chris Cannon (R-UT) also offered a more nuanced argument against proceeding with contempt proceedings -- without "evidence of criminality" on the part of the White House (he cited the example of Nixon), the House would likely lose the battle in court. And such a loss, he feared, would hurt the House's ability to investigate the White House in the future.

Rep. Conyers (D-MI) didn't think it was so complicated: "If we do not enforce this subpoena, no one will ever have to come before the House Judiciary Committee again."

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), who made it clear during the hearing that he's a big fan of executive privilege, interrupted to say that this was a unique circumstance, and that it's "not every day" that a witness produces a letter from the White House saying that he/she can't testify. "I don't think it's ever happened before," he said.

To which Conyers replied dryly, "It happened yesterday in the Senate Judiciary Committee."

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As expected, the House Judiciary Committee voted today to authorize subpoenas for those White House emails on Republican National Committee email accounts relevant to the U.S. attorney firings.

It's up to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) to pull the trigger, however, and actually vote to issue the subpoena.

Harriet Miers, as expected, defied a Congressional subpoena and did not show for her hearing before the House Judiciary Committee this morning.

In response, subcommittee chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) ruled that the White House's claim of executive privilege was invalid. We'll have more soon.

Sanchez's opening statement is below.

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Well, at least it wasn't during Lent. From The Times-Picayune:

A phone number for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., appears at least five times in the billing records of what federal authorities say was a Washington call-girl operation, the first just four months after he was sworn in to the U.S. House in 1999 and the last on Mardi Gras of 2001.

Under pressure earlier this week, Vitter acknowledged committing a "very serious sin" and that his number showed up in the records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who has come to be known as the "Washington, D.C. Madam." An attorney for Palfrey earlier said that Vitter's number was found once in the records, but a search of the documents by The Times-Picayune turned up four more calls to a number once registered to Vitter. The attorney said that clients also used phones in hotel rooms, so that not all the numbers can be traced to individual callers.

The records show that Vitter number was called by Palfrey's service beginning Oct. 12, 1999 and ending Feb. 27, 2001, which was Mardi Gras. Palfrey has said she was running an escort service that her employees were instructed not to engage in sex acts. But federal prosecutors say she was running a prostitution ring that netted more than $2 million in assets.

Records show that the return calls to Vitter's number generally lasted a minute or two and were placed in the evening. The phone number had a Washington, D.C., exchange. Vitter keeps an apartment in Washington where he stays while Congress is in session.

The Justice Department released a broad legal opinion on the issue of the White House ignoring Congressional subpoenas for information on fired U.S. attorneys. Guess which side Attorney General supports. (LA Times)

CIA Director Michael Hayden reported to the Iraq Study Group last November that the Iraqi government inability to govern seemed “irreversible,” which set the tone for the group’s eventual recommendations for Iraq. (Washington Post)

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for ensuring the safe distribution of nuclear material in the United States, gave a company radioactive material after a short, cursory review of the company’s background. Which is unfortunate, because the company was actually a dummy operation run by the Government Accountability Office; apparently, the GAO is less than pleased to discover how easy it is to obtain enough radioactive material to make a dirty bomb. (Reuters)

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona refused to name individuals who instructed him to privilege politics over science, but the hunt is on to uncover the culprit. Vegas odds point to Dr. Cristina Beato, Carmona’s former boss and now the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization. (NY Times)

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Harriet Miers had some backup.

The Los Angeles Times points out something that we didn't stress yesterday about Miers' refusal to appear at the House Judiciary Committee hearing today even though under subpoena. And that's that Miers and the White House are relying on a new opinion by the Justice Department, dated July 10th, that argued that "the President and his immediate advisers are absolutely immune from testimonial compulsion by a Congressional committee." The opinion was described in White House counsel Fred Fielding's letter to Miers' attorney.

Update: You can read the opinion here.

The opinion, as paraphrased by Fielding, says it's not even close:

"...this constitutional immunity exists to protect the institution of the Presidency and, as the Department's opinion illustrates, this position has been shared by numerous Administrations, Republican and Democratic, for more than 60 years."


The Times of course rolls out a couple legal experts to say that the Department is, to put it mildly, overstating the case.

But there's a likely practical effect to the opinion, as the Times points out: it does more than just provide Miers and the White House some cover, it "raises questions about whether the Justice Department would prosecute senior administration officials if Congress voted to hold them in contempt for not cooperating with the investigation."

If Congress were to vote Miers in contempt of Congress, the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C. would be charged with enforcing it -- something less likely to happen if his Department has taken such a view.

Now, there are other ways for Congress to pursue their citation of contempt if the U.S. attorney refused to enforce it, and as I reported earlier this week, it seems likely that somehow, some way, the whole mess will land in court. And if it gets there, the Department's extraordinarily expansive view of privilege will finally be put to the test.

Meanwhile, it's all made Chairman John Conyers' (D-MI) decision about whether to move for a contempt citation much easier.

You don't hear many Democrats calling on Bush to grant Scooter Libby a full pardon. But today at the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on the president's commutation power, Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) made an interesting case for it.

Davis' rationale? Since the commutation allows Libby continued appeals to contest his conviction, he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights in the event that Congress calls him to testify about the Plame leak.

"If a pardon had been granted this committee could have immunized him and brought him here," Davis said.

In this video, Davis runs his point by sentencing expert Prof. Douglas A. Berman of the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.

During a press conference this afternoon, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt released the phone record that led to Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) admission that he'd been a customer of Pamela Martin & Associates, the escort service run by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, otherwise known as the D.C. Madam.

Flynt's investigator, Dan Moldea, matched the D.C. number -- which appeared February 27, 2001 for a 1.2 minute conversation on Palfrey's records -- to Vitter last Friday. Hustler called Vitter's office for comment on Monday afternoon; Vitter then released his statement to the AP admitting to using the service Monday night. Vitter was a member of the House at the time.

During his conference, Flynt said that he'd outed Vitter -- and would be outing others, because of his hypocrisy; or as he put it: "I'm not exposing anyone's sex life, I'm only exposing hypocrisy."

Flynt took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post in June, offering $1 million for "documented evidence of illicit sexual or intimate relations with a Congressperson, Senator or other prominent officeholder." He said that Hustler had a number of investigations still going as a result, and that he'd be releasing the data "as we have it."

Update: See the update on this here.

Despite knowing that alternatives existed for providing vehicular armor kits to the Army and Marine Corps, Pentagon procurement officials awarded over $2 billion in "sole-source" contracts to two big defense companies that had difficulty delivering the armor on time, according to a June 27 Defense Department Inspector General report. At the time the contracts were awarded to Force Protection and Armor Holdings, senior officials argued for competitive bidding.

Says the report:

Force Protection, Inc., did not perform as a responsible contractor and repeatedly failed to meet contractual delivery schedules for getting vehicles to the theater. In addition, (U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command) Life Cycle Management Command and Marine Corps Systems Command decisions to award commercial contracts to Force Protection, Inc., may have limited the Government's ability to ensure it paid fair and reasonable prices for the contracts.


As for Armor Holdings -- which, by the way, is being purchased by the much-investigated BAE Systems -- one subsidiary, Simula Aerospace and Defense Group, delivered to TACOM armor kits with "missing and unusable components" and missed several shipment deadlines, resulting in "increasing risk to the lives of soldiers." According to the IG report, Simula didn't qualify under the Federal Acquisition Regulation as a "responsible prospective contractor," but it got its contracts anyway.

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The Republican lawyer who gave traction to former Gov. Don Siegelman's (D-AL) claims that his prosecution was politically motivated is standing by the affidavit she signed in May. She also raises new allegations of questionable -- and possibly illegal -- political machinations in Alabama.

The key points in Dana Jill Simpson's sworn statement have not been explicitly disproven, though they've been artfully denied by some. Not only has Simpson faced criticism in the Alabama press, but she's been attacked by some of the GOP operatives whom she accused of discussing ginning up a criminal investigation of Siegelman to get him to concede the 2002 election. Simpson hit back today at her detractors in a public statement available here. Siegelman was convicted of bribery in June 2006 and sentenced to seven years in prison.

In addition to standing her ground on her sworn statement, Simpson outlines an experience -- entirely separate from the 2002 talks about investigating Siegelman -- that prompted her to go to the Alabama bar to discuss ethical implications of what she knew about Republican tactics in the state:

A former lawyer came to see me and said he was sent by Governor Bob Riley and Gerald Dial. This man asked me to do things that I worried were illegal and certainly unethical in the Senate election contest against Democratic Senator Lowell Barron, Senator Zeb Little, Senator Roger Bedford and Senator Hank Sanders. I did not want to get mixed up in these things and told him I was not interested in any involvement.

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