Friday, July 20, 2007

A “bold new assertion of executive authority” my ass. Call it what it is…a declaration of dictatorship.

There is no rule of law. We are no longer a nation of laws. Not so long as this president is allowed to occupy the Peoples House. Not when he proclaims that he is above all law.

Yesterday, the administration asserted that under the false flag of executive privilege that the Justice Department will be prohibited from pursuing contempt charges against presidential aides and White House officials in the matter of the wrongful firing of nine U.S. Attorneys.

This unprecedented and stunning assertion on the part of the White House sets up a Constitutional showdown between the president who fancies himself a king and a Congress attempting to reassert their standing as a co-equal branch of government with oversight authority, after six years of a rubber-stamp, feckless Republican body taht abdicated all responsibility in favor of blind political fealty.

The way the system is set up, the House or Senate citation of Contempt must be submitted to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, “whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the Grand Jury for it’s action.”

Yesterday, the administration made the breathtaking argument that the Congress has no power to compel a U.S. Attorney to pursue the charges in such a case as the U.S. Attorney firings. "A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, said the administration's stance is simply "astonishing."

"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all…"is almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president's view. . . . It's allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers."

From the Washington Post:

The administration's statement is a dramatic attempt to seize the upper hand in an escalating constitutional battle with Congress, which has been trying for months, without success, to compel White House officials to testify and to turn over documents about their roles in the prosecutor firings last year. The Justice Department and White House in recent weeks have been discussing when and how to disclose the stance, and the official said he decided yesterday that it was time to highlight it.

Yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee voted to lay the groundwork for contempt proceedings against White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, following a similar decision last week against former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.

The administration has not directly informed Congress of its view. A spokeswoman for Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the Judiciary Committee's chairman, declined to comment . But other leading Democrats attacked the argument.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called it "an outrageous abuse of executive privilege" and said: "The White House must stop stonewalling and start being accountable to Congress and the American people. No one, including the president, is above the law."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said the administration is "hastening a constitutional crisis," and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the position "makes a mockery of the ideal that no one is above the law."

Waxman added: "I suppose the next step would be just disbanding the Justice Department."

Now, the Congress does have the power to hold their own trials, and even condemn people found in contempt to serve jail time. Known as Inherent Contempt, the procedure was invoked frequently in the 19th century, but has not been used since 1934 (Jurney v McCracken).

When Inherent Contempt is invoked, it involves only the house issuing the citation for contempt. Following the issuance of the citation, Sergeant-at-Arms for the House or Senate is empowered to arrest the person named in the citation and deliver them to the floor of the chamber, where they can be held to answer the charges and then be subjected to punishment that the chamber dictates as appropriate. This usually involves imprisonment for either punishment or coercive effect, or the charge of contempt might be dismissed.

The way it stands right now, it seems entirely possible that Harriet Meiers will be the first person cited for Inherent Contempt in 73 years.

What a proud legacy this administration offers for posterity.

Future generations will not be kind to us when they write the history of this shameful era. At our gravesides, it will be invective that issues forth, not eulogies. And if we do not impeach these imperial pricks, we will deserve the scorn and derision that will certainly be our due.

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