Saturday, February 16, 2008

House Republicans Walk Out To Protest Contempt Charges

The (Democratically-controlled) House of Representatives has cited two Bush aides -- Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers -- as being in contempt of Congress for their refusal to fulfill their legal obligations to a Congressional investigation into the hiring and firing of federal prosecutors. Josh Bolten failed to turn over subpoenaed documents; Harriet Miers failed to appear after she was subpoenaed to testify; in both cases, their contempt of Congress has seemed quite clear, and this move to cite them comes as no surprise.

In response, Republican House members, showing their deep respect for the Democrats in particular and the Rule of Law in general, stormed out and staged a photo-opportunity on the steps of the Capitol!

During this photo-op, some Republicans denigrated the Congressional attempt to determine whether (or more properly, to what extent and by whom) the Department of Justice has been transformed into a partisan political weapon.

Instead they suggested in the strongest terms that the Democrats in the House should spend their time kowtowing to the twice-unelected President's demands for a grant of retroactive immunity to all the telecom companies which have broken the law at his behest.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported for the AP; excerpts and additional comments follow:

House Holds Bush Confidants in Contempt
The House voted Thursday to hold two of President Bush's confidants in contempt for failing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether a purge of federal prosecutors was politically motivated.

Angry Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walkout.

The vote was 223-32 Thursday to hold presidential chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt. The citations charge Miers with failing to testify and accuse her and Bolten of refusing Congress' demands for documents related to the 2006-2007 firings.

Republicans said Democrats should instead be working on extending a law — set to expire Saturday — allowing the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails in the United States in cases of suspected terrorist activity.
If the law that's set to expire Saturday allowed the government to eavesdrop only on "those phone calls and e-mails in the United States in cases of suspected terrorist activity", we would have less of a problem. But the law allows the government to eavesdrop at will, without even the pretense of trying to stop suspected terrorist activity. Nobody would ever know who the government had eavesdropped on, or when, or why.

In fact the Congress knows very little about the situation the administration is trying so hard to legalize. It's all so secret, they don't even know what they're voting about. It's enough to make you sick, if you think about it for more than half a second. But it's fine with some of our "representatives".

Meanwhile, the White House is making sure nothing comes of the contempt citations:
The White House said the Justice Department would not ask the U.S. attorney to pursue the House contempt charges.
The White House should be cited for contempt as well, of course. But the AP can't exactly say that.
It is the first time in 25 years that a full chamber of Congress has voted on a contempt of Congress citation.
... except that the chamber wasn't exactly full, because the Republicans decided to show their lack of contempt out on the front steps.
The action, which Democrats had been threatening for months, was the latest wrinkle in a more than yearlong constitutional clash between Congress and the White House.

The administration has said the information being sought is off-limits under executive privilege, and argues that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution.
The administration uses the same "logic" to defend the aides and the corporations: "If they had to worry about accountability under the law, they wouldn't help us."

Rather than saying "Good! They shouldn't help you!", Congress has been changing the laws that these people have been breaking.

This has been going on and on; we are looking at only the latest example.

And this is representative government at its finest? This is the greatest democracy ever conceived?
If Congress doesn't act to enforce the subpoenas, said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, it would "be giving its tacit consent to the dangerous idea of an imperial presidency, above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances."
I couldn't agree more, and the AP article explains why (in the next few paragraphs). But Congress has already given its explicit consent to "the dangerous idea of an imperial presidency, above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances" -- and it's done so more than once during this presidency, so although Steny Hoyer is technically correct, there's something very hollow about his words.

A bit of context on the case:
Under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department officials consulted with the White House, fired at least nine federal prosecutors and kindled a political furor over a hiring process that favored Republican loyalists.

Bush's former top political adviser Karl Rove has also been a target of Congress' investigation into the purge of prosecutors, although Thursday's measure was not aimed at him.
Karl Rove's missing about five million emails which were all supposed to be archived. The AP won't mention that, but I might.

Greg Palast, who has obtained some of those emails, says they are extremely incriminating. That's no surprise, of course; it helps to explain both the reluctance of the media to discuss the case in detail, and it helps to explain the administration's refusal to cooperate with the investigation in any meaningful way.
Fred Fielding, the current White House counsel, has offered to make officials and documents available behind closed doors to the congressional committees probing the matter — but off the record and not under oath. Lawmakers demanded a transcript of testimony and the negotiations stalled.
Are we idiots here? Are we supposed to believe that proceedings that occur "off the record and not under oath" have any validity? Are we supposed to believe that honest people with nothing to hide would refuse to cooperate with an investigation unless they could do so "off the record and not under oath"?

It's such a transparent attempt to hide wrongdoing; Fred Fielding is another one who could be cited for contempt, in my view. And so is John Boener.
"We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us," said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the minority leader.
I keep saying it but none of these idiot politicians will listen:

Go arrest the terrorists who want to kill us -- if they really exist!

If you know who they are and what they're planning then you shouldn't need to dessicate the Bill of Rights any further -- just go arrest them. We will thank you profusely. None of us want to die, you know.

But if you don't know who they are then you can't know what they're planning, and if this is the case then you should go directly to jail for homegrown terrorism.

We're tired of having fear used as a weapon against us. John Boehner is tired of the truth.
"Let's just get up and leave," he told his colleagues, before storming out of the House chamber with scores of Republicans in tow.
Yeah, good idea, John. That'll show the American people there's no contempt involved here. None whatsoever! And the White House can help catapult the propaganda:
"If the House had nothing better to do, this futile partisan act would be a waste of time," said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman. "The 'people's House' should reflect the priorities of the American people, not the fantasies of left-wing bloggers."
The idea that a White House spokeswoman can be relied upon to "reflect the priorities of the American people" is just so absurd, given the current political situation ... that the standard horse manure from the standard sources seems like comic relief half the time -- except it's not funny.

Neither is it funny how the media keeps trying to make "wiggle room" for the criminal elite:
It's not clear that contempt of Congress citations must be prosecuted. The law says the U.S. attorney "shall" bring the matter to a grand jury.
Well, it all depends on what you mean by the word "shall" doesn't it? The word seems pretty clear to me ...

What "shall" we do? "Shall" we bring the matter before a grand jury? The law says we "shall". What "shall" we do with the matter when we bring it before the grand jury? "Shall" we initiate a prosecution? Or "shall" we just order pizza and beer?

Some historical precedent may be instructive:
The House voted 259-105 in 1982 for a contempt citation against EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, but the Reagan-era Justice Department refused to prosecute the case.

The Justice Department also sued the House of Representatives in that case, but the court threw out the suit and urged negotiation. The Reagan administration eventually agreed to turn over the documents.
But the Bush administration will never agree to turn over anything. They may decide to sue the House of Representatives, and they may decide to turn over a limited subset of carefully screened documents, but they will never satisfy the entire request from Congress. To do so, in their view, would be a bad move on two counts: It could lead to legal penalties; and it would set a precedent under which the White House would be seen as acknowledging its accountability to Congress as specified under the Constitution. And that's why it will never happen.

You may not have heard it here first, but I stand by my prediction.

As for the Republicans in Congress, they stand not only in contempt of Congress, but in contempt of the Rule of Law and of the Constitutional system of American government.

Their motives are clear for all to see. They're not even smart enough to pretend they don't hold our entire system of government in utter contempt.

They're not smart enough to hide this, either: The Rule of Law would impede them if they didn't undermine it -- the same as it impedes all criminals.

But justice isn't really blind; as we all know, the law impedes the rich and powerful much less than it impedes the ordinary working man. And the people -- politicians and their backers -- who are trying to strip the law of its teeth are among the wealthiest and most powerful of all.

One might think they could buy all the freedom from accountability they would ever need. But they have chosen to dismantle the Rule of Law, rather than simply purchase some freedom from it.

This gives you some idea of the magnitude of their crimes.