July 17th, 2008 08:20 EST
Executive privilege trumps Congressional subpoena
Asserting executive privilege, President Bush has refused to comply with a congressional request for documents relating to the leak of the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Wilson. A House committee delayed a vote on citing the U.S. attorney general with contempt in connection with the matter:
Attorney General Michael Mukasey communicated the White House position in a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Democrat Henry Waxman.
The panel had issued a subpoena to compel the Bush administration to give Congress the transcript of an FBI interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, along with other documents.
Majority Democrats have continued to investigate the affair, which involved leaking of the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, wife of former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, to the media. Joseph Wilson was a key critic of Bush administration justifications for the Iraq war.
Vice President Cheney`s former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and giving false statements to federal investigators in the case, in which he and a State Department official were involved in leaking Wilson`s identity.
Libby acknowledged to investigators at one point that it was possible Cheney had ordered the identity of the former covert agent revealed. Libby`s two-and-a-half-year jail sentence was commuted by President Bush.
Congressman Waxman called the White House assertion of executive privilege ludicrous, and while delaying a panel vote on the contempt citation for Mukasey, said this:
"As the committee considers its next steps, I hope the president and vice president will also consider theirs," said Congressman Waxman. "Congress and the American public are entitled to know what role the president and the vice president played in the despicable outing of Ms. Wilson.
Ranking panel Republican Tom Davis protested to Waxman as other Democrats made statements, and asserted that Republicans needed more time to assess the attorney general`s letter.
The two men had this exchange:
DAVIS: "You have obviously spent some time getting your staff wound up on the politics of this and I would like to move ahead to the bills that were on notice to do this morning."
WAXMAN: "All members were informed that on the agenda this morning was to vote for contempt of the attorney general of the United States, and that is a serious matter and members are concerned about it."
Angry Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich urged Waxman to proceed with the contempt vote, asserting the White House is merely trying to shield the vice president from further scrutiny:
"There is no, either historic or legitimate legal position that this administration has to assert executive privilege at this time, and it is being done solely to try to stop this committee from moving forward, and this committee should not, should not accede to this contemptuous device by the president and his attorney general," said Congressman Kucinich.
Attorney General Mukasey said the executive privilege claim is not an attempt to conceal information from Congress, but an effort to protect the separation of powers and what he called the integrity of future Justice Department investigations of the White House.
Waxman rejected Mukasey`s assertion that the FBI interview with Vice President Cheney has anything to do with internal White House deliberations. The White House action, added Waxman, has darkened the cloud over the vice president and left important questions unanswered.