FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Showdown Over Executive Privilege

by MARJORIE COHN

George W. Bush’s presidential tenure has been marked by one cover-up after another. But the masterful spinning of Karl Rove and a compliant media enabled Bush to get away with it. Now that the Democrat-controlled Congress is investigating administration malfeasance, Bush’s cover-ups have come cloaked in the guise of “executive privilege.”

Bush has claimed executive privilege in resisting congressional subpoenas in the investigation of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal. U.S. Attorneys who weren’t “loyal Bushies” were ousted in a mass purge. Bush instructed former White House political director Sara Taylor and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to refuse to testify about any “White House consideration, deliberations or communications” regarding the firings. He also instructed his chief of staff Joshua Bolten to withhold documents demanded by the House Judiciary Committee. Defying a congressional subpoena is a crime.

Taylor testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, invoking the privilege selectively. Miers’s and Bolten’s situation is even more problematic. They refused to show-up at the House committee altogether. A witness must appear, be sworn, and then invoke the privilege. Miers and Bolten committed a crime when they failed to appear. They could be locked up for ignoring the subpoenas. Bush will claim the Executive is supreme and that his order to Miers and Bolten nullifies the subpoenas.

There are already signs that Bush will refuse to allow his Justice Department to enforce congressional contempt charges. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy responded angrily, saying, “By acting above the law, this President and Vice President seek to override the independence of law enforcement and manipulate our valued system of checks and balances,” adding, “an independent review is probably in order.” It remains to be seen whether Congress will match its rhetoric with its votes.

As it did after the Haditha massacre, the U.S. military covered up the real cause of Pat Tillman’s death. After claiming he died in a heroic gun battle with the enemy, the administration was later compelled to admit Tillman died from “friendly-fire.” When the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subpoenaed “all documents received or generated by any official in the Executive Office of the President” relating to Tillman’s death, Bush refused, claiming executive privilege. Again, a showdown is looming, this time over documents.

Chairman Henry Waxman and ranking Committee Republican Tom Davis wrote a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, which said: “The Committee hearing [on Tillman’s death]. . . raised questions about whether the administration has been providing accurate information to Congress and the American people about the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Congress has three options. First, if a majority of the judiciary committee and the full chamber agree, they can issue contempt citations and then certify them to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, “whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action,” according to a federal statute. But in spite of that statute, the White House will reportedly forbid the Justice Department from pursuing contempt charges.

Second, Congress could invoke its own “inherent contempt” power, direct the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest the recalcitrant witness, and imprison her in the Capitol basement. This power was last used in 1934.

Finally, Congress can hire counsel to enforce the subpoenas in civil court.

In the past, when the White House and Congress have clashed over claims of executive privilege, the President generally capitulated before criminal proceedings began. But Bush has consistently defied Congress and the courts with his secret spying program and his signing statements. He will likely hold firm, banking on favorable rulings in the increasingly conservative Supreme Court.

Perhaps Congress should subpoena Dick Cheney to shed light on these matters. Since Cheney denies belonging to the executive branch, he’d be hard pressed to assert executive privilege.

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law

 

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is co-author of “Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice.” Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail