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March 21, 2007

Constitutional Crisis Looming

It is not just the fate of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that hinges on what happens this week in Congress.

We've known since the Democrats took control in January that it was only a matter of time before we reached a time when Congress and the White House hit an impasse that brings this country to a Constitutional crisis.  We also knew the general outlines of the issues that would bring us to such a point: Congress would ask for cooperation from the Administration about some controversial issue and the White House would refuse. 

It looks like we may be there.

The Constitutional Requirements for Congressional Oversight vs. the Unitary Theory of the Executive

Today, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law decided to require Karl Rove and four other top aides to testify publicly under oath about their roles in firing the eight federal prosecutors.  The full Judiciary Committee would have to authorize the subpoenas and would only do so if Judiciary Chairman John Conyers chooses to do so.  The panel is also asking for documents related to the firings that the Administration and Justice Department have refused to provide.

Separately, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that his committee would be issuing subpoenas to the same cast of characters tomorrow, Thursday.   He said:

Testimony should be on the record and under oath. That's the formula for true accountability.

The Bush Administration is playing the "Executive Privilege" card again and promises to do so every time they are confronted. The White House has insisted that the firings were appropriate.  Fred Fielding, old Republican hand and the replacement as Counsel for the President when Harriet Miers departed in January, has been "negotiating" with Congress.  He offered to allow Rove and the others to be interviewed in private without having to take oaths or having the sessions transcribed. 

Yeah, right.  This after some 16 days of documents from November 15 to December 4 just prior to the firings of seven of the eight prosecutors on December 7th, were discovered not to have been included in Monday night's document dump regarding the firings of the prosecutors.   

Subpoena Power Critical but Not Sufficient

When asked last fall what the most important thing about regaining control of the House was, Nancy Pelosi responded, "subpoena power".   However,  we have not had a situation before where the executive branch refused to testify, as they are likely to do in this case or any other, if required to do so under oath. 

We have seen time and again that the Bush Administration cannot be trusted to tell the truth.  Hence, the reason for putting them under oath.

But if they refuse?  That is new territory.  The tricky thing is that a confrontation with the White House would have to take one of two paths, neither one promising:

1) go through the courts up to the Supreme Court, taking as long as two years

2) go through the local federal prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who reports to the Attorney General

Impeachment as a Threat?

Kagro X, over at DailyKos, argues that the only real muscle that Congress has to make the administration cooperate is the threat of impeachment.  Even for those who would strongly prefer not to address the issue of impeachment, Kagro X says that it must be on the table as a threat if we are going to learn the truth in the case of the firings of the federal prosecutors or anything else.   When the administration tells Congress to buzz off and refuses to cooperate with the constitutionally mandate Congressional authority to provide oversight, what other choice is there going to be? 

Posted by Lynn Allen on March 21, 2007 at 10:11 PM in National and International Politics, Strategery | Permalink

Comments

It's not a constitutional crisis.

It's a Democrat crisis.

Any president, Republican or Democrat, would defend the presidency.

The D's are hellbent to create as much "scandalous" controversy as they can for political purposes for 2008. This is really not the issue that gives you credibility.

The danger here for you Dems is that you're risking insulting even your own base. Or at least, the thinking part of it.

Posted by: Whacky | Mar 21, 2007 10:34:35 PM

Actually, Mr. Wack-a-doodle, it's a Republican crisis. On Novemeber 7, 2006 the American people decided that this president, this vice-president, the previous congressional majority and their corporate benefactors were nothing but a nasty band of criminals, hell-bent on squeezing every last dollar out of the Iraq disaster while killing thousands in the process. THE TIDE HAS TURNED.

The tide now flows with the Democrats who are exercising legally, Constitutionally vested powers of oversight, and they are doing it with the support of Republicans as well -- Republicans who have been sickened by the Bush/Cheney lust for unending war; who have been humiliated to be associated with a regime that spits in the face of traditional conservative principals like balanced budgets. Republicans who are appalled by the frat-boy president's total disregard for the rule of law. In fact, they are coming out of the woodwork to castigate him.

70% of Americans are now in deep opposition to Bush's policies of divide and conquer, obfuscate, distract, lie, torture and kill. Seventy percent. That means that at least 28% of the people in his own party who voted for him in November, are sick of his crap. They are waiting for Democrats to turn this criminal out on his ass. The fix is in for Bush/Cheney.

Where Bush's presidency may have started out as kind of "Blithe Spirit" his scary, dry-drunk public performances of late have begun to resemble "The Lost Weekend." He fantasizes that with his squeals of Executive Privilege! he's gearing up for a "High Noon" showdown with Congress when, in fact, he will likely experience something very similar to "Death in the Afternoon." And the denouement will be played out on the 24-hour news cycle, for all to see. The World is Watching.

Posted by: shoephone | Mar 21, 2007 11:24:24 PM

The president's offer to have Karl and Harriet and others sit down for a private, unrecorded, unsworn chat, with no right of return, is an insult to millions of law-abiding citizens who, if called to court or to a grand jury or even to a deposition, would be expected to speak under oath, and have their testimony recorded and preserved for examination. This isn't about protecting the president's right to get advice from his staff, it's about wanting to shield them and himself from the consequences of failing to be truthful. Offering to release the e-mails going back and forth from the WH and DOJ would tell only part of the story - and he knows that. The rest of the story - the part it would be important to know - is in the e-mails going between Rove and Meiers and other WH personnel.

For those who have theie eyes shut and their fingers in their ears - "tap, tap - yes, you - listen up:" There has been a parade of DOJ officials before Congress, under oath, who have so far failed to provide a consistent and truthful accounting of what happened here, and that is why the committees in question have no confidence that those who have yet to speak to the committee will provide that truth if they are not required to do so in public and under oath. If they are going to lie, let them do so where we can all hear it, where those about whom they are lying - like the fired prosecutors, like the folks at DOJ, like Senators and Representatives - can hear those lies and be able to respond and rebut. Let them face the committees with the possibility of consequences for their lies. For heaven's sake - one of the people in question - Karl Rove - had to make 4 or 5 trips to a grand jury to keep correcting and amending his testimony in order to avoid being indicted in the Valerie Plame matter - is there any wonder why the committees want him under oath?

Executive privilege is looking like the last refuge of scoundrels and liars - and in having already released a considerable amount of information, it may be difficult to assert that he has not already waived that privilege - but I will leave it to the lawyers to weigh in on that.

Posted by: Anne | Mar 22, 2007 5:17:18 AM

Well done, Lynn!

This has been a long and awful time coming -- since the last Constitutional crisis, the deciding of Bush v. Gore -- but it's here at last. I never expected to see something worse than Richard Nixon atop our government, but even Watergate pales now.

The months ahead will bring news hard and horrifying, and inevitably some things will fall through the cracks. The Executive Branch has perpetrated more criminality over the last six years than any institution, even Congress and the courts combined, can be expected properly and fully to address. But now I can finally believe that we'll see major chunks of it investigated, litigated, judged, and punished -- and that, when the smoke clears, we'll have reaffirmed enough of our American essence to begin again and keep going.

There've been many times in the Bush years when I wondered how or even whether this would be possible, how or even whether we'd survive GWB, Cheney, Rove, and all their henchmen. But since the swearing-in of the new Congress, day by day we've seen more proof building that, as always before, the Constitution of the United States will hold. Not even these hooligans can scratch it -- because WE THE PEOPLE say so.

Bravo and Godspeed to Leahy, Conyers, and all their righteous colleagues. An even bigger Bravo and Godspeed to us whose votes have empowered them to undo a President refusing to TAKE CARE THAT THE LAWS BE FAITHFULLY EXECUTED.

Posted by: lotus | Mar 22, 2007 6:11:02 AM

It should be:

"Seventy percent of Americans . . ."

NOT:

70% of Americans . . ."

It kind of makes you look dumb.

Plus, the tide has turned? The dems barely won the House and Senate! That's a tidal turn?

Talk about hyperbole.

Posted by: GTI | Mar 22, 2007 6:21:31 AM

GTI,

Your comment is a perfect example of the inane smallness of the arguments left to the right. Carry on. You make our point perfectly for us. While the rest of us are considering whether the Constitution is being thrown out the window in favor of "unitary rule", a fancy way of saying "starting down the road to suspending rule by law", you are diddling over the correct way to begin a sentence.

Posted by: Lynn | Mar 22, 2007 8:23:50 AM

Lynn, I think GTI's comment is reflective of the inability of the right to counter these charges with anything that even resembles a valid argument; I suspect GTI is a regular viewer of Fox News, which really ought to consider putting "News" in quotes.

What we know for certain is that this "what's the big deal?" attitude was certainly not evident when Clinton was in office; I think I read that the amount of material the GOP majority required the Clinton administration to produce over his 8-year tenure averaged 4,000 pieces of paper a day. A day. And they wanted it on things as important to the nation as the use of the Christmas card list. Subpoenas rained down like confetti. White House aides and others in positions of trust appeared and testified before Congress in great numbers.

I'm just over people like GTI - who thought it was just great to spend 8 years investigating a Democratic administration - now not according the majority party - regardless of how slim that majority is - the right to exercise its mandated duty to oversee and hold accountable a Republican administration that has had free reign for 6 years as a result of the failure of the GOP majority to exercise any oversight.

It's really about stewardship, which this administration is failing at in ways that have serious and long-lasting consequences, and which the Congress has a duty to exert, even if the minority has to be led, kicking and screaming, to participate.

Posted by: Anne | Mar 22, 2007 9:19:43 AM

GTI is just in a snit because he got smacked down by David Neiwert for not knowing the law, and then by me for not knowing how to spell. In other words: GTI is completely irrelevant.

Posted by: shoephone | Mar 22, 2007 10:58:45 AM

GTI also appears to not understand that "Democrat" isn't a proper adjective for a member of the Democratic Party (why else would he have not corrected Whacky on that matter?) and that "kind of" isn't an adverb. Under the circumstances, his knowledge of English seems remarkably incomplete for someone who wants to lecture others on how their use of it affects their image.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Mar 22, 2007 11:06:36 AM

GTI - you're well on your way to getting banned from this site.

Posted by: shoephone | Mar 22, 2007 11:10:24 AM

Hey there, the-Cujo-I-AM-looking-for! Excellent posts over at your place too -- for which, my thanks.

Posted by: lotus | Mar 22, 2007 12:55:14 PM

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