Leahy: Congress willing to 'go to court' over W.H. subpoena standoff

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, remarked today that Congress was ready to go to court if the White House continues to refuse to comply with subpoenas for information regarding the firing of federal prosecutors. Leahy said that the committee could seek to charge the Bush Administration with criminal contempt of Congress if it did not provide public testimony in the matter.

"They’ve chosen confrontation rather than compromise or cooperation," said Leahy on the 'Meet the Press' news program. "The bottom line is in the U.S. attorney investigation, we have people manipulating law enforcement. Law enforcement can’t be partisan."

The investigation questions whether the White House illegally exerted undue political influence in the firing of 8 federal prosecutors. The Democratic-led investigation could result in a Constitutional showdown over issues of executive privilege and congressional oversight.

The Senate has also subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office for documents related to the administration’s 'Warrantless Wiretapping' within the United States. In this case, lawyers for Vice President Cheney first argued that the Vice President's role in the Senate meant that Cheney wasn't part of the Executive Branch. This legal claim generated substantial criticism and a failed attempt to get funding for Cheney's executive role cut off. White House lawyer David Addington and others in the administration have since backed away from this argument.

A number of procedural matters remain before criminal contempt proceedings can begin. The committee must formally reject claims of executive privilege and then must vote to find the President in contempt of Congress. Such a vote must be confirmed by the whole Senate before being sent to a U.S. attorney, who must also concur before a formal charge can be established. The House of Representatives may also bring contempt charges independent of the Senate if it so chooses. Such charges are rarely brought by either body of Congress: just ten cases since 1975, and most result in settlement agreements prior to the commencement of a trial.