Friday, June 29, 2007

Great Big Surprise! Bush Stonewalls On Subpoenas

President Bush has refused to comply with the subpoenas issued by two Congressional committees, but that's not a big surprise. We can even expect more of the same soon.

Will the Congress bare its teeth? Now that's a much more interesting question! Here's Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times:

Bush Asserts Executive Privilege on Subpoenas
President Bush moved one step closer to a constitutional showdown with Democrats on Thursday, as the White House asserted executive privilege in refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas for documents related to the dismissal of federal prosecutors.

The move prompted Democrats to accuse the White House of stonewalling, and seemed to put the legislative and executive branches on a collision course that could land them in court.
... unless the Democrats decide to cave in before then. They would call it a "compromise", of course. And the Republicans are urging them to compromise, for the good of the country, of course.
On Thursday morning, the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, telephoned the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which had issued the subpoenas, to inform them of Mr. Bush’s decision. The president also intends to invoke executive privilege to prevent two of his former top aides, Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and Sara Taylor, the former political director, from testifying, officials said.
It's lovely when the President gets to decide which laws apply to which individuals. That makes us all so happy, because it is exactly at those moments that we can see most clearly that we are living in one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. And that may be only an intangible benefit, but it certainly makes it easier for us to enjoy our spacious skies and amber waves of grain.
“With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path,” Mr. Fielding wrote in a letter to the committee chairmen, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan. He said the committees had issued “unfettered requests.”
The "respect" Mr. Fielding shows for Senator Leahy and Representative Conyers is very small indeed.
Mr. Conyers, in a telephone interview, called the letter “an appalling response to a reasonable question,” adding, “This is reckless; it’s a form of governmental lawlessness that is really astounding.”
Come again? Astounding lawlessness? I'd have thought that he -- John Conyers, of all people -- would be used to it by now. And maybe he is. But I suppose he has to say something!

Omens for the immediate future are ominous but not entirely unexpected:
The letter seemed to lay the groundwork for how the administration will respond to a separate, unrelated, round of subpoenas, issued by the Senate panel Wednesday to the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and the Justice Department for information about the domestic eavesdropping program run by the National Security Agency.

Administration officials said they had not decided how to respond to those demands, but experts said it seemed clear that the White House would refuse to comply there, too.
Well of course they will fail to comply. They will fail to comply with every request that threatens them in the slightest, although they always pretend to offer something:
The White House offered lawmakers access to certain documents as well as private interviews — not under oath, and without transcripts — with top aides to Mr. Bush, including Ms. Miers, Ms. Taylor and Karl Rove, the chief political strategist. The Democrats, demanding formal testimony under oath, rejected the offer.
And of course the Democrats rejected the offer -- who running an investigation would ever accept such conditions on the questioning of witnesses -- let alone suspects?

And although government lawyers try to portray this investigation as a case with very limited ramifications, it actually threatens their bosses in a very serious way.

So ... can you spell "stonewall"? You'll be seeing that word a lot soon.
“Given the way in which both the U.S. attorney matter and the N.S.A. matter are now percolating through committees, I would be very surprised if there were not a major showdown over executive privilege,” said Peter M. Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University and an authority on executive privilege. “It might not get to court, but there will have to be some very high pressure negotiations at a very late stage to avoid that.”
Those favoring a government of laws must be hoping there won't be any late negotiations, since the pressure will undoubtedly be great and the Democrats' track record under pressure has been atrocious.

As always, the result of the dispute is going to depend in no small part on how the issues are framed, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg portrays this case as a small one:
The clash pits the Congressional right to conduct oversight — in this case, an investigation into whether the Justice Department allowed partisan politics to interfere with hiring and firing of federal prosecutors — against the president’s right to unfettered and candid advice from his top aides.
But the Congressional investigation is about much more than whether partisan politics was allowed to interfere with hiring and firing. It's really about whether (that is to say the extent to which) the Justice Department has become an instrument of partisan politics. Or at least one would hope so.

The possibilities are endless.

For instance, one relatively unexplored line of questioning goes like this: Suppose it turns out that -- as it currently appears -- eight of 93 U.S. attorneys were fired for not exerting sufficient pressure on Democratic candidates at election time. What does that say about the other 85, the ones who kept their jobs?

Stolberg sidesteps this hot potato and continues:
The next step is for Democrats to decide whether to try to negotiate with the White House or to vote on a contempt resolution, a process that could take months and would lay the groundwork for sending the matter to court. Democrats did not say Thursday how they intended to proceed, although by the sound of their comments, negotiations did not seem likely any time soon.
Personally I prefer to live in a nation of laws and therefore I hope the Democrats do not decide to negotiate at all. They should just vote the contempt resolution and be done with it. So this is probably a very unlikely outcome.

I had to laugh at a comment by Senator Leahy:
“This is a further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances,” Mr. Leahy said.
Sorry, Senator, but they've gone way beyond Nixonian. Even Spiro Agnew didn't tell any Senators to go f-ck themselves.

Nonetheless, the scent of Watergate is now in the air, and this sets up a some very interesting possibilities. As Larisa says, "I would like to officially welcome you to Watergate..."

And in some ways her analogy is a good one. But this is different.

First of all it's a very different Congress, one divided against itself in a very different way than the population is divided. In the electorate, most people, including many nominal Republicans, oppose this President, his wars of choice, and his quest for unfettered power. But in the Congress, some (many!) nominal Democrats actually support the president and the war, and would have it last for decades, if it were their call. So they may choose to support the commander-in-chief for the duration, and all of this might be moot. We'll have to wait and see.

Second, Nixon was losing it! He was going to pieces right in his own office, pacing the floors, talking to dead presidents, praying with his accomplice in war crimes, Henry Kissinger (who couldn't wait to get out of there, especially if he had a hot date). But Bush? No problem. The Decider rocks on!

Nixon was terminally frightened of losing another election -- this fear motivated many of his excesses. So he was devastated by the loss of support from the Congressional Republican heavies. But what does Bush care? He doesn't have to stand for election again. And anyway, the electoral system is now taken care of. Bush and his friends have assurances that Richard Nixon never even hoped for.

Does any of this matter? Probably not. If the removal of eight U.S. attorneys at the same time were a routine procedure, and if everything had been done above-board, if there weren't millions of e-mails missing and stories floating around about serious attempts to subvert what remains of our Constitutional republic, there would be no need to put restrictions on Congressional oversight, and there would be no reason why administrative aides could not testify in public, with oaths and transcripts and everything else that people do in civilized countries, because the administration would have nothing to hide.

But -- even more so than the Nixon administration -- this bunch has nothing to show! So they have to resist every attempt at transparency. Of course this doesn't prevent them from howling at other governments for not being sufficiently "democratic". And only Nixon could go to China.

Even if the USA is no longer the world's greatest democracy, even if it is no longer be a democracy at all, surely it doesn't anymore matter as long as we remain the world leader in at least one equally important category. And beyond any doubt, such is the case: the USA is now -- and has been for at least six years -- the world's greatest hypocrisy!

How about that?

We're number one! We're number ONE! WE'RE NUMBER ONE!!!