Pelosi Makes Criminal Referral for Contempt Citations of White House Officials

Two weeks ago, the House passed a contempt resolution against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers. The two refused to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Judiciary Committee as part of the investigation of the U.S. attorney firings.

Today, after House lawyers dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) finally followed up by referring the contempt resolution to the U.S. attorney for D.C.

What will happen next is not much of a mystery. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has already said that the Justice Department would not act on such a referral and convene a grand jury, as required by federal law. That’s because Miers and Bolten didn’t comply with the subpoenas because the President said they couldn’t — it would violate executive privilege.

In a letter to Mukasey, Pelosi anticipated that answer, but argued that “there is no authority by which persons may wholly ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed because a President unilaterally instructs them to do so.”

She concluded: “I strongly urge you to reconsider your position and to ensure that our nation is operating under the rule of law and not at presidential whim.”

If Mukasey, through D.C.’s U.S. attorney, rebuffs the referral as expected, the House has a backup plan. The House also passed a resolution that would allow the House Judiciary Committee to pursue a lawsuit against the White House over the subpoena. If a judge agreed to hear the case, it might lead to a decision as to whether the President’s sweeping invocation of privilege is Constitutional.

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