The House Judiciary Committee voted 22-17 to issue contempt citations against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers over their refusals to testify and provide documents in the investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
The Washington Post reports:
The Bush administration has made clear it intends to block prosecution of any contempt charges, arguing that a presidentially-appointed U.S. attorney cannot legally be forced by Congress to flout the president's determination that the materials and testimony sought are protected by executive privilege.
White House spokesman Tony Snow responded with strong language.
"Now we have a situation where there is an attempt to do something that's never been done in American history, which is to assail the concept of executive privilege, which hails back to the administration of George Washington and in particular to use criminal contempt charges against the White House chief of staff and the White House legal counsel," he said.
As might be expected, the committee was split along party lines.
California Democrat Adam Schiff warned his fellow committee members, "We have rolled over with every claim of executive power. We have never challenged the president of the United States. We have never challenged the administration ... I guarantee you that you'll rue the day that you sat on your hands if we allow the administration to walk over us, as it has attempted to do."
His colleague, Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., said, "It's time for Congress to assert itself." And Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y, said, "The duty of this committee is not only to protect Americans against crime and other things. It is also to protect constitutional liberty, in this case against an administration that is clearly intent on subverting liberty and assuming almost monarchical powers."
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., called the contempt citations "needless escalation" and "an unnecessary provocation of a constitutional crisis."
But Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee put it this way: "I'm prepared to accept a constitutional clash because the feelings of the members of this room are inferior to the needs to protecting the Constitution on behalf of the American people."
Sensenbrenner admitted, "You folks have got the votes to do whatever you want to."