Administration: Contempt Of Congress


JULY 9, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ADMINISTRATION

Contempt Of Congress

This week, the showdown between the White House and Congress over the improper firing last year of nine U.S. attorneys is set to come to a head. At the center of the dispute are subpoenas issued last month by both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for the testimony of two former White House aides, Sara Taylor and Harriet Miers, as well as documents related to their involvement in the firing process. Last month, the White House invoked executive privilege to block the release of the documents. Today, President Bush is due to provide “a detailed justification of his executive privilege claims and a full accounting of the documents he is withholding.” But the White House has signaled it will defy the order, with counsel Fred Fielding expected to tell “lawmakers that he has already provided the legal basis for the claims and will not provide a log” of the requested documents. Taylor, an ex-aide to Karl Rove who served as White House political director, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but her lawyer has said that though she is willing to testify, the White House is urging her to ignore the subpoena. This morning, Bush invoked executive privilege to block Taylor and Miers from providing testimony. Bush’s defiance of the subpoenas may lead Congress “to seek criminal contempt citations against the White House,” which would bring the battle over separation of powers into the court system, leading to what could be an unprecedented constitutional struggle, as “no president has mounted a court fight to keep his aides from testifying on Capitol Hill.”

CONGRESS CONSIDERING HOLDING WHITE HOUSE IN CONTEMPT: On June 29, after the White House invoked executive privilege, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the respective chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, sent a letter to Fielding demanding the details of “which documents, and which parts of those documents, are covered by any privilege” that the administration may invoke. The requested records log, “according to the committees, should describe each document withheld, including its source, subject matter, date and recipients.” Though Leahy and Conyers note that “such privilege logs have been provided by the White House in previous Administrations,” and that the Justice Department has already provided similar logs, the White House is balking, viewing “the request as a backdoor attempt to get sensitive information about deliberations.” If Fielding refuses to provide the logs today, as is expected, the committees will “move to proceedings to rule on [the executive privilege] claims and consider whether the White House is in contempt of Congress,” according to the letter. “We’re going to pursue our legal remedies to press forward with the subpoenas,” Conyers said yesterday on ABC’s This Week.

BUSH BLOCKING AIDES’ TESTIMONY: On Saturday, W. Neil Eggleston, the attorney for Sara Taylor, sent a letter to Leahy, writing that “Ms. Taylor expects to receive a letter from [White House Counsel Fred] Fielding on behalf of the President directing her to not comply with the Senate’s subpoena.” In his letter, Eggleston claimed that “Taylor would testify without hesitation,” but that she “faces two untenable choices”: follow the President’s wishes and be held in contempt of Congress or work with the Senate and risk alienating the President, “a person whom she admires and for whom she has worked tirelessly for years.” Reacting to the letter, Leahy said, “The White House continues to try to have it both ways — to block Congress from talking with witnesses and accessing documents and other evidence while saying nothing improper occurred.” Taylor’s testimony to Congress would be an important step in the investigation of why nine U.S. attorneys were singled out for firing last year, as she was one of the main contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice during the deliberations over the purge.

TAYLOR WAS DEEPLY INVOLVED IN FIRINGS: Taylor, who stepped down from her position at the White House in May, is reported to have been intimately involved in the firing process, especially the replacement of former Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins with former Rove-protege Tim Griffin. According to Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Taylor put “pressure” on the Department of Justice to bypass the Senate and install Griffin as the U.S. Attorney in Arkansas. Additionally, Taylor had a direct role in misleading the Senate about White House’s actions when she signed off on a January 2007 letter to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) claiming that “that ‘not once‘ had the Bush ‘administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process’ by exploiting the Patriot Act.” After Cummins suggested publicly that the White House orchestrated his ouster, rather than the Justice Department, Taylor led the charge behind the scenes to attack and discredit him. In a February 2007 e-mail to Sampson, Taylor wrote that though she doesn’t “like attacking” her friends, they should “tell the deal” on Cummins. In another e-mail, Taylor called Cummins “lazy,” implying that he had been fired for performance-related issues — the charge that first led the ousted U.S. attorneys to speak publicly about their dismissals.


UNDER THE RADAR

ADMINISTRATION — ROVE: ‘I MAKE NO APOLOGIES’ FOR ANY OF ADMINISTRATION’S BLUNDERS: This weekend at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Karl Rove spoke at length about his involvement in a series of key administration blunders related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rove grossly distorted the conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison, claiming, “Our principal health problem down there is gain of weight, we feed them so well.” In fact, Guantanamo prisoners are facing a mental health crisis, with over 40 suicide attempts, including one suicide in May. Some have been treated by “experts in treating torture victims.” Rove fearmongered that 80-90 percent of violence in Iraq is due to al Qaeda. In fact, as former Secretary of State Colin Powell noted earlier in the Aspen conference, only 10 percent of violence in Iraq is due to al Qaeda. Rove also argued that “we all thought [Saddam Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction. The whole world did.” But U.N.weapons inspectors and prominent members of the international community strongly disagreed with this assessment before the invasion. Downplaying his role in the CIA leak scandal, Rove said, “My contribution to this was to say to a reporter, which is a lesson about talking to reporters, the words ‘I heard that, too.'” In fact, Rove may have intentionally leaked Valerie Plame’s identity, writing in an e-mail to a reporter that “[Joe] Wilson’s wife…works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction].” One reporter said his conversation with Rove was the first time he heard anything about Plame. Subsequently, Rove partook in an “an aggressive campaign to discredit Wilson.” Nonetheless, Rove remains confident today. “Look, I make no apologies,” he said. 

ENVIRONMENT — LIVE EARTH SPREADS GLOBAL WARMING AWARENESS: On Saturday, more than 150 performers took the stage on all seven continents to “publicize the issue of climate change.” Organized by former Vice President Al Gore and broadcast to more than two billion people in 100 countries, the Live Earth concert series asked fans to “make little changes such as buying low-energy light bulbs or unplugging electrical outlets when they are not in use” to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. Gore “called on fans to adhere to a seven-point pledge to tackle global warming including demanding more renewable energy and helping to preserve forests.” In an effort to protect the interests of the oil lobby, conservative critics, led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a think tank funded by both the oil and auto industries, lined up to attack the event. On MSNBC’s Tucker, Myron Ebell, the director of energy and global warming policy at CEI, said Gore “makes this stuff up” about global warming and “there is no scientific support for his claims.” Ebell also criticized the concerts “because they just use too much energy.” In fact, Live Earth organizers went to considerable lengths to minimize the environmental impact of the events. “In the planning stages, all air travel has been put through a rigorous approval process and trips deemed necessary” were offset through carbon credits and investments in renewable energy. Organizers distributed a “Green Handbook” of touring tips to artists, and individual staffers were dedicated to helping artists participate in the event in an environmentally friendly manner. According to Gore, “the carbon offsets and the innovative practices that are being used to make this a green event, I think, will set the standard for years to come.”

IRAQ — SEN. GRAHAM: ESCALATION ‘IS WORKING BEYOND MY EXPECTATIONS’:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), returning from a visit last week to Iraq along with his pro-escalation partner Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), offered the following assessment of the situation in Iraq: “The military part of the surge is working beyond my expectations,” Graham said. “We literally have the enemy on the run. The Sunni part of Iraq has really rejected al-Qaida all over the country. We’re getting more information about al-Qaida operations than we’ve ever received.” Graham isn’t the only proponent of the military surge who is now desperately spinning reality in order to maintain the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) also contended recently that the escalation has the enemy “on the run.” Despite the rosy picture painted by Graham, Lieberman, and others, over the weekend, more than 220 people were killed across Iraq. In response, “[p]rominent Shiite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves” and a large block of senior Iraqi leaders are seeking “a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.” As the New York Times reports today, “White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them” and “Defense Secretary Robert Gates is quietly pressing for a pullback that could roughly halve the number of combat brigades now patrolling the most violent sections of Baghdad and surrounding provinces by early next year.” Declining support for the war was clearly demonstrated on Saturday when the New York Times became one of the first major news papers to declare: “It is time for the United States to leave Iraq.”




THINK FAST

The Washington Post reports “the Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates today canceled a visit to Latin America so he can participate in policy meetings in advance of a report to Congress July 15 on the results of the escalation.

A New York Times source says the massive bombing in Amerli, Iraq, this weekend killed 155 people, making it now “the worst single bombing in the war (the March bombing in Tal Afar killed 152).” In Amerli, “almost everyone seemed to have lost relatives or friends, if not entire families.”

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reports that Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence was done in part to avoid “a fracture with the vice president.” Also, Bush reportedly instructed his counsel Fred Fielding to see “if there was compelling evidence that might contradict the jury’s verdict that Libby had lied to a federal grand jury.”

Attacks on supply convoys protected by private security companies in Iraq have more than tripled as the U.S. government depends more on armed civilian guards to secure reconstruction and other missions.” 

“Crews stayed on the offensive against major blazes around California and other Western states” this weekend, as Utah experienced its “largest-ever wildfire, at 283,000 acres,” and “ferocious” fires “scorched parts of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.”

“The Bush administration has failed to fill roughly a quarter of the top leadership posts at the Department of Homeland Security, creating a ‘gaping hole’ in the nation’s preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today.”

In an op-ed entitled “Spineless on Sudan,” Nicholas Kristof writes Bush has “turned away” from Darfur. “For years, Mr. Bush’s aides have discussed whether he should give a prime-time speech on Darfur to ratchet up the pressure; he still hasn’t. Laura Bush just completed a four-nation swing through Africa, but she didn’t include a visit to any of the areas affected by the Darfur crisis.”

And finally: The new White House briefing room will reopen on July 15. The refurbished quarters “will have 49 leather chairs (which, incidentally, are slightly wider than the old ones). Asbestos has been removed, and presumably, so have the rodents that once prowled in the shadows.”

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GOOD NEWS

This weekend’s Live Earth concerts broke a record “for an online entertainment show by generating more than nine million internet streams, Microsoft web portal MSN said.”

STATE WATCH

PENNSYLVANIA: Major budget crisis causes the partial closure of the state government.

FLORIDA: Scientists discover dangerous levels of arsenic and pesticides in Lake Okeechobee.

MISSOURI: Gov. Matt Blunt (R) signs legislation placing new regulations and restrictions on abortion clinics and sex education.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol: President Bush timed clemency for Scooter Libby to get political cover by attacking former President Bill Clinton.

THINK PROGRESS: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) raises the specter of impeachment, highlights support for removing President Bush and Vice President Cheney from office.

ESCHATON: Contradicting his current tone, the Washington Post’s David Broder once called for “scorn and shame for those who violate their oaths of office.”

CROOKS AND LIARS: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) considers calling special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify about “Scooter” Libby.

DAILY GRILL

“The military part of the surge is working beyond my expectations. … We literally have the enemy on the run.”
— Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), 7/6/07

VERSUS

“Prominent Shiite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence that claimed more than 220 lives, including 60 who died Sunday in a surge of bombings and shootings around Baghdad.”
— AP, 7/8/07