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

February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail