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What Conyers Told the Rules Committee Re Contempt
February 13, 2008 -- (Washington, DC) - Today, House Judiciary Committee chairman testified before the House Committee on Rules in support of statutory contempt and civil litigating authority resolutions against former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten. The full text of his statement is below:
Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Drier, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify on two related resolutions: 1) H. Res. 979, the Judiciary Committee’s resolution recommending that the House find White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas duly issued by the committee, and 2) H. Res. 980, a privileged resolution I introduced today authorizing the committee to initiate or intervene in civil judicial proceedings to enforce those subpoenas.
Recommending that the House cite someone for contempt of Congress is a step that the committee, and I as chairman, take with great reluctance. Unfortunately, it is a step that is clearly necessary to preserve the role and constitutional prerogatives of Congress as an institution, in addition to getting to the bottom of the U.S. Attorney controversy.
The Judiciary Committee voted on July 25 to recommend the contempt resolution because, despite months of effort to secure voluntary compliance, the White House has refused to provide access to crucial information requested by the committee. In fact, as of today, I have written nine letters over more than eight months trying to resolve this matter. But despite duly issued subpoenas, the White House has determined that it has the unilateral authority to prevent Mr. Bolten from providing us with a single piece of paper and to prevent Ms. Miers from even showing up at a committee hearing.
If the executive branch can disregard congressional subpoenas in this way, we no longer have a system of checks and balances. That is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it is our bipartisan responsibility to protect it. As our former colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, has explained, taking action is crucial in order to defend Congress “as a separate, independent, and completely equal branch of government.”
Because the White House has refused to reconsider its confrontational position, I believe we have no choice but to bring this contempt resolution to the floor promptly and to ask that this committee adopt a rule to facilitate doing so.
Along with the contempt resolution, I ask the committee to include in its rule the appropriate process for consideration of H. Res. 980, a privileged resolution authorizing the Judiciary Committee to initiate or intervene in civil litigation to enforce these two subpoenas. The need for this resolution became clear just last week, when the aAttorney general unfortunately testified before our committee that he is inclined to follow the White House’s view and forbid enforcement of the contempt resolution.
Under the contempt statute, the U.S. Attorney “shall” refer the contempt citation to a grand jury for action after receiving it from the Speaker. Unfortunately, only last week Attorney General Mukasey testified before our committee that he is inclined to follow the view of the White House and not enforce contempt despite the clear statutory command.
In light of that, the privileged resolution introduced today follows the suggestion first made by former Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner last year and authorizes the House general counsel to file a civil suit to enforce the subpoenas. That way, if the administration refuses to enforce the contempt finding, we can take action in the courts to vindicate Congress’ authority.
Although Mr. Sensenbrenner suggested a civil lawsuit as an alternative to contempt, the courts have made clear that statutory contempt must be tried first. In a lawsuit in the 1980s, when the Justice Department tried to get a civil court ruling after the House had found a former EPA administrator in contempt, the court ruled that it should “defer to established statutory procedures” on contempt and that a civil lawsuit could be pursued only after statutory contempt remedies are exhausted. Here, a civil suit would be filed only after the administration refuses to allow statutory contempt to go forward.
Accordingly, I request that these two companion resolutions be considered together by the committee and referred for action on the floor as soon as possible.
Source: House Judiciary Committee