Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.
Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action."
But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.
This is it. This is the endgame. Bush just drew a line in the sand and said, "Bring it on."
The Congress has an obligation to challenge this. They must. This is the final battle - who has the ultimate authority in the American government, the President or Congress?
We have heard a lot about the American experiment. This may actually be the end of it. If Congress knuckles under or loses this battle, the President may as well start wearing a laurel wreath because he will be Emperor. If Bush can block any inquiry into his actions, if he can commute and pardon those who keep the truth from being known, then the gig is up. America will be so far gone from what the Founding Fathers intended that we might as well tear down their monuments now. It would be a more fitting and honorable memory of them.
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