White House aides face contempt charges

The Judiciary Committee votes today on whether the full House should consider certifying citations against chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers.

By Alex Koppelman

Published July 25, 2007 1:00PM (EDT)

As announced on Monday, the House Judiciary Committee will be meeting at 10:15 Eastern this morning to consider citing White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers for contempt of Congress. Both Bolten and Miers have, citing President Bush's assertion of executive privilege, defied subpoenas issued by the committee -- Bolten was subpoenaed for internal White House documents, Miers to testify and to produce documents as well. This all stems from the continuing investigation into the administration's firing of nine U.S. attorneys, some believe for improper reasons.

Today's committee vote is but the first part of the three-step process involved in bringing criminal contempt of Congress charges. If the committee votes to recommend it today, the next step will be a full vote of the House of Representatives. Democrats should, presumably, have little trouble with both of those steps, as they hold sizable majorities in both the committee and the full House.

It's the third step -- if all this gets that far -- that could prove problematic. If the full House votes for contempt citations, then Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will certify those citations to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, whose duty it would be under statute to bring the matter before a grand jury and then, if the grand jury approves, to prosecution. Bolten and Miers, if convicted, would face penalties of up to 12 months in prison and $1,000 each in fines. But the Bush administration announced last week that, in its view, the U.S. attorney is not obligated to pursue potential charges; indeed, the administration has said it will not even allow the U.S. attorney to do so. Many legal scholars -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- seem to agree that the administration has that power.

This time around, the two parties seem unwilling to budge, but these matters are usually resolved by negotiation. The full House has voted only once for a contempt citation, during the first term of President Reagan.

The Congressional Research Service has -- hat tip here to Marty Lederman, blogging at Balkinization -- just released a comprehensive legal and historical report on Congress' powers when it comes to contempt of Congress and compelling compliance with subpoenas.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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