Conyers Moves Contempt Matter Against Meirs and Bolton Toward House Floor

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.

8 thoughts on “Conyers Moves Contempt Matter Against Meirs and Bolton Toward House Floor”

  1. someone I take seriously is speculating that the contempt citations were being held back waiting for the completion of ongoing investigations and that the citations are the opening guns in a very large battle.

    As Conyers advised someone recently “You have to be smart.”

  2. Patty C,

    Perhaps the revolving globe is bringing the sun up after such a long darkness.

    We all must remember the great lesson of the INC fund (and later the republican right) taught us: a steady hydraulic pressure, unrelenting and persisting, can crumble the strongest edifice of resistance given time. Losing every battle along the way until the last one..the one that counts.

    Now lest we all start dancing in the street. The President will protect Meir and Bolton and the Congress will not use inherent contempt.

    But at least they did their duty today. Whether they are successful or not was never the point. For our constitutional system to work, it is not necessary for one branch to prevail in any given contest of strength, it is only necessary that the branches faithfully follow their mandated roles… That’s what we saw today, a historic reaffirmation of our system. Honor and respect to the voters.

    For those who walked…they should consider deeply where their constitutional loyalties lie.

  3. That was fun!

    February 13th, 2008
    House Votes Against PAA Extension
    Related Issues
    NSA Spying issue overview, blog posts
    Posted by Tim Jones

    Wednesday afternoon, House Republicans and conservative Democrats defeated the House Leadership’s attempt to pass a 21-day extension of the Protect America Act. Absent such an extension, the PAA is set to expire this Friday, February 15.

    The Bush Administration’s allies are trying to use this false deadline to bully the House into an immediate vote on the Senate’s new surveillance bill, rather than allow time for negotiation between the Senate and House. The Senate’s bill includes immunity for telecoms that assisted in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, whereas the House’s RESTORE Act does not.

    Update, 5:20pm PT: In a striking statement this evening, House Speaker Pelosi signaled that she may be intending to call the President’s bluff and allow the PAA to expire:

    Today, an overwhelming majority of House Democrats voted to extend (the PAA) for three weeks so that agreement could be reached with the Senate on a better version of that law. The President and House Republicans refused to support the extension and therefore will bear the responsibility should any adverse national consequences result.

    However, even if the Protect America Act expires later this week, the American people can be confident that our country remains safe and strong. Every order entered under the law can remain in effect for 12 months from the date it was issued.

    Who will blink first — the Democrats or the President? Help steel the House’s resolve and call your Congressperson now!

  4. Well its done. The republicans walked out. The democrats voted and Pelosi is on-board. This is truly stirring. History is going to be made and this is not a small issue. At stake was/is a direct attack on the Democratic Party using state organs. This is why the democrats were not going to let this one slide.

    Meanwhile the Senate passes the Intelligence Authorization bill with the anti-waterboarding (UCMJ as the uniform standard) provision. Final vote: 51-45.

    Perhaps there is something stirring here.

  5. Footnote 42 of the 1984 OLC memo on executive privilge vs. contempt of Congress:

    We believe that this same conclusion [that separation of powers doctrine mandates reading the contempt statute such that it doesn’t apply to Presidential claims of executive privilege] would apply to any attempt by Congress to utilize its inherent “civil” contempt powers to arrest, bring to trial, and punish an executive official who asserted a Presidential claim of executive privilege. The legislative history of the criminal contempt statute indicates that the reach of the statute was intended to be coextensive with Congress’ inherent civil contempt powers (except with respect to the penalties imposed). See 42 Cong. Globe 406 (remarks of Rep. Davis). Therefore, the same reasoning that suggests that the statute could not constitutionally be applied against a Presidential assertion of privilege applies to Congress’ inherent contempt powers as well.

  6. now we will see.

    The republican votes: uninteresting and predictable, they are corrupted from their duty by their partisanship.

    the democratic votes: well, we will see.

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