House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers appears to have been able to break the hold on the still pending criminal contempt resolutions against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. A House vote could trigger another confrontation with Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who has indicated that he will refuse to prosecute the case — not long after telling Conyers that he will also refuse to investigate the crime of torture ordered by the President.
Miers and Bolton are in clear contempt of Congress in this matter in their refusals to testify. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders prevented Conyers from getting the matter to the floor for months after the House Judiciary approved the citations in July 2007.
The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Jeffrey Taylor, has been ordered not to enforce the contempt citations if approved by Congress. This would set up an interesting fight. Congress is most likely to go to court to try to get an order compelling prosecution. However, there remains an older option. Congress can take matters into its own hands and use the power of “inherent contempt.” Under this approach, it could hold its own trial of these individuals. Historically, it would not only try such individuals but arrest them.
Individuals were once arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms for the House or Senate. They were dragged to one of the house floors (it is purely a matter for each individual house) and made to answer for the charges. This became too time-consuming so Congress created that statutory process of referral in 1857. Congress last used inherent contempt in a 1934 Senate action involving a one-week trial on the Senate floor. William P. MacCracken, a lawyer and former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 days imprisonment. The trial was notably upheld by the Supreme Court in Jurney v. MacCracken.
For the full story on the upcoming vote, click >here.