President Bush may prove to be to the law of contempt what President Johnson proved to be to the law of interstate commerce: he could create lasting precedent for the holding of officials in criminal contempt. With calls for contempt and prosecution swirling over the torture of suspects and destruction of CIA tapes, Bush officials have now been formally charged with contempt by Senate and House Judiciary Committees.
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote was interesting because it was not close. By 12-7, the Senators approved citations against Karl Rove, the former top aide to President Bush, and Joshua Bolten, the current White House chief of staff. Sens. Spector and Grassley supported the citations.
In the meantime, the House Judiciary Committee approved citations for Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.
The committee subpoenaed Rove and Bolten this summer to testify on the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year. Bush used an extreme interpretation of executive privilege to deny both their testimony and documents.
This could get interesting since the Justice Department has indicated that it will not allow the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, to pursue this case in court. It is rare to have such a refusal, though President Clinton took such an action in 1999.
Under 2 U.S.C. section 192, a criminal contempt citation is referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
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