The Democrats' case is simple. Former and current White House officials have "absolute immunity" from Congressional subpoenas, according to this administration. And not only can they ignore a subpoena, but if Congress were to try and enforce that subpoena through a citation of criminal contempt, the administration would prohibit the District of Columbia's U.S. attorney from moving forward. That's a contemptible display of executive power, Democrats argue.
But the threat you fear may be worse than the threat you know. Or at least that's what Republicans argued during this morning's debate on whether the House Judiciary Committee ought to cite Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten with contempt. You can see our highlight reel of the back and forth here (Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) lays out the Dems' case towards the end):
Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) laid it all out. There is "no evidence" of wrongdoing by the White House in the U.S. attorney firings, he says. And since there's no wrongdoing, it's likely that Congress will lose its battle with the White House in court. And if they lost, he says, future claims of executive privilege by the White House would be much stronger, since they'd be resting on the Supreme Court's decision. And that would "make the presidency in America, a much stronger, imperial office." Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) agreed, saying that Congress was in danger of handing the White House "a blank check."
A bemused John Conyers (D-MI) responded that he was glad that both sides of the aisle agreed on opposing an imperial presidency. "It's a concern that we share," he said, citing Cannon's concern of creating an imperial presidency. "Please, that's the last thing I want to do."
The citation, of course, passed along party lines.
As expected the House Judiciary Committee approved citations of contempt against Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten in a vote just a few minutes ago. The vote was along party lines, 22-17. We'll have more from the committee's meeting shortly.
The AP reports, citing "a senior Democratic official," that "a vote by the full House would most likely happen after Congress' August recess."
The House Judiciary Committee is meeting now to vote on whether to cite former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten with contempt. The result of the vote isn't cause for much suspense, and neither is the probable Republican reaction, given that committee GOPers have consistently backed the White House in the dispute.
In preparation for the hearing, the committee has produced a 52-page memo (pdf) on the U.S. attorney firings in support of the resolution of contempt. The report lays out the numerous ways that administration officials might have broken the law in carrying out and then covering up the firings. The report goes a long way toward meeting the main quibble from Republicans on the committee, that Congress would be likely to lose a court battle over the assertion of executive privilege if they could not show criminal wrongdoing.
We'll have highlights from the hearing up soon after.
It was all going so well for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. After months of withering revelations about his mismanagement of the Justice Department on issues great and small, he appeared secure in his job, thanks to the unflagging confidence of President Bush. But yesterday, he tripped himself up repeatedly during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- quite possibly entering perjury territory.
Gonzales's big problem is that he told the Senate on February 6, 2006 that no one within the Justice Department dissented from President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, a contention made dubious by James Comey's testimony in May that, as acting attorney general in March 2004, Comey refused to reauthorize a program he considered illegal. In 2006, Gonzales told the Senate that he was testifying about "what the president has confirmed" exists -- meaning the warrantless surveillance program known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Gonzales yesterday attempted to reconcile his testimony with Comey's by saying that Comey raised objections to a different program than the one Gonzales told the Senate was uncontroversial.
In today's New York Times, Jane Harman -- who until last year was the chief Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and part of the "Gang of Eight" briefed on the surveillance program -- deals a very serious blow to Gonzales' "multiple-program" line.
âThe program had different parts, but there was only one program,â Ms. Harman said, adding that Mr. Gonzales was âselectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,â which she called improper.
If Harman is telling the truth, then there are only two understandings of Gonzales' testimony. The attorney general could be describing "different parts" of the program to mean different surveillance programs. That's the generous reading. The alternative is that Gonzales misled the Senate in his 2006 testimony, and yesterday issued an outright lie in order to contain the damage. (Some might say the two interpretations aren't really very different.)
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The House is set to vote on contempt citations for Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten after both declined their congressional subpoenas. In preparation for the vote, Rep. Conyers (D-MI) has pulled together a fifty-page memo that might be considered the first official allegation that several members of the administration broke the law carrying out and then covering up the U.S. attorney firings. The vote is scheduled for 10:15 AM (EST). (Washington Post)
The House Oversight Committee informed the White House yesterday that they will be questioning former White House officials on the death of Corporal Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004. The White House waited weeks to make Tillmanâs death public and Congressional investigators want to know what officials knew prior to the public announcement. (Associated Press)
The FBI is moving forward with its plan to pay telecom firms to store information on citizens that the FBI cannot legally preserve itself. Yesterday, the FBI requested a budget of $5 million a year from Congress to fund such a program. Under its current formulation, the FBI would not be allowed direct access to the records without a subpoena or national security letter. (Washington Post)
The Wall Street Journalreports that 18-term Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is under criminal investigation for his dealings with Alaska oil services company Veco Corp.
While the investigation into Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) ties to Veco, including the remodeling of his Girdwood home, has been widely reported, this is the first time Young has been implicated in the scandal.
It looks like an annual pig-roast fundraiser snared the congressman known for huge pork projects, including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."
From The Journal:
For a decade, former VECO Chief Executive Bill Allen has held fund-raisers for Mr. Young in Anchorage every August, known as "The Pig Roast," participants said. Public records show contributions to Mr. Young of at least $157,000 from VECO employees and its political-action committee between 1996 and 2006, the last year the event was held.
Mr. Young amended his campaign-finance filings in January to reflect $38,000 in payments to Mr. Allen, the former VECO chief. The refunds, which haven't previously been reported, were labeled "fund-raising costs" in documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Veco has been the recipient of a variety of federal contracts, but it's still not clear what the company would have received in exchange for all of its alleged bribes.
That makes three members of the Gang of Eight -- the bipartisan congressional leadership briefed about President Bush's warrantless surveillance -- to dispute Alberto Gonzales's testimony that the Gang demanded the surveillance continue after a March 2004 briefing telling them that acting Attorney General James Comey refused to reauthorize the program.
"She made clear her disagreement with the program continuing despite Comey's objection," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly tells TPMmuckraker. Pelosi was part of the Gang of Eight in her capacity as House Democratic leader in 2004.
So far we're waiting to hear back from GOP members of the Gang of Eight, as well as Jane Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader who received briefings on the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance programs, says Alberto Gonzales isn't telling the truth about what Senate and House leaders were told in March 2004 about the program's utility and legality.
In testimony today to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales attempted to give "context" for his infamous hospital trip to a convalescent John Ashcroft on March 10, 2004, after acting attorney general James Comey refused to authorize the surveillance program. It was only after a briefing for the so-called "Gang of Eight" bipartisan congressional leaders demanded that the program continue, Gonzales said, that he and then-White House chief of staff went to "inform" Ashcroft of the Gang's wishes.
Daschle was one of that Gang of Eight. In a statement e-mailed to TPMmuckraker, he all but calls Gonzales a liar.
"I have no recollection of such a meeting and believe that it didn't occur. I am quite certain that at no time did we encourage the AG or anyone else to take such actions. This appears to be another attempt to rewrite history just as they have attempted to do with the war resolution."
Daschle's statement bolsters one that his former Gang of Eight colleague, Senate intelligence committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), gave to Dan Eggen of the Washington Post: Gonzales is "once again is making something up to protect himself," Rockefeller said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak) has amended her Senate financial disclosure forms to add information about a riverfront land deal since TPMmuckraker first made inquiries about the transaction.
When I called Murkowski's office in June, a spokeswoman said a clerical error was the reason they had left off the value of the senator's mortgage and written the fragment "11/0" for the date of purchase. The office has since checked off the appropriate column for the $136,000 mortgage and updated the date to read "11/06.
Local government filings show that Murkowski bought the land from developer Bob Penney in December 2006, not November. I called her spokesman Kevin Sweeney just now who said "she went and filled out the paperwork in November."
Note: Our document collection is under repair. We'll get you her disclosure form soon.
Late Update: Here is the disclosure.
The Ted Stevens Foundation was founded in 2000 aiming to serve a variety of admirable causes and work on "educating and informing the public about the career of Senator Ted Stevens." The extent of its charitable work now looks questionable and after filing a FOIA request with Alaska, the Sunlight Foundation discovered that the group has failed to pay its dues and register with the state for last three years.
A shortage of money isn't their excuse. Back in 2005 The Ted Stevens Foundation, which was renamed North to the Future Foundation last year, had net assets of $1.7 million in 2004 and $2.3 million in 2005.
Besides spreading the word about Stevens' accomplishments, the group also aims "to make grants to other public charities and to provide programs which educate, encourage communication, relieve poverty and promote community welfare throughout the state of Alaska and the United States.â
How successful has it been at giving out money? According to Sunlight's research:
Between 2003 and 2005 the foundation has spent more than $380,000 on fundraisers but has given out only two grants: one for $40,000 to the Smithsonian Institute in 2004 and $10,000 to the Anchorage Rowing Association in 2005, according to the 990s.
So, then, what does this non-profit actually do? Back in 2004 The Washington Post ran an editorial taking a guess at the real purpose: to shake down lobbyists for the benefit of sitting politicians.
At an event held at the Capital Hilton in 2004, The Ted Stevens Foundation aimed raise $2 million with tables going for $50,000 each. Some lucky donors had a VIP at their table -- one of the two thirds of the Senate members that attended. At the time, Stevens was the chair of the Appropriations Committee and lobbyists were happy to donate to his "charity" for a little time by his ear.
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