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HJC Contempt Hearing, Part I

miersbush.jpg(Photo by Paul Morse on the Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court announcement day.  Seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?)

I’ll try and liveblog the HJC Contempt proceedings as best I can this morning.  Please, I beg you, keep comments to a minimum so we don’t have to start new threads so frequently.  It makes it really tough to liveblog if I’m constantly having to start a new thread.  Thanks!

Some background on the HJC foundations for seeking contempt against Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten from Amy Goldstein in the WaPo today.  The hearing will be broadcast live on C-Span3.

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10:20 am ET  Chairman Conyers just arrived in the meeting room.  Hearing should begin shortly.

10:23 am ET:  Rep. Conyers gavelling the hearing into session.

REP. CONYERS:  There are a number of items on our agenda today, the matters involving Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten and various other matters.  Taking care of a subcommittee assignment.

Regarding Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten, for purposes of consideration.

Clerk now reading the resolution for Contempt of Congress.

REP. CONYERS OPENING:  Today, the committee will consider a report to cite Miers and Bolten with contempt of Congress.  It is not a matter that I take lightly, but it is essential to challenge improper assertion of executive privilege, and to protect the institutional prerogatives of Congress as a co-equal branch of government.  The investigation we have been engaged in over the last several months is an important one — not about whether USAttys serve at pleasure of President, they clearly do.  What it is about is whether Administration officials can use the USattys to influence pending criminal investigations or influence an election, whether Admin. officials are permitted to make false statements to the Congress, and whether the American people can be certain that the laws are fairly and imparitally enforced. 

This committee has done what Congress has always done:  we sought documents and testimony on a voluntary procedure, and only through compulsory process when we had to do so.  We have been open at all times to reasonable compromise, and fully cognizant of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch.  What I am not open to is a “take it or leave it” attitude.  This is the only proposal that we have ever received from WH counsel — I hope all members, regardless of party affiliation, see the problems inherent in this proposal to the Congress for future matters.

Executive privilege is not being properly asserted here.  Even if privilege was properly asserted, under the balance of interests test, I believe we would prevail.  We have sought the information elsewhere, there is evidence of wrongdoing, and this is not a national security matter.  If we countenance a process where our subpoeanas can be readily ignored — where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena does not bother to show up, where a witness can assert privilege under the thinnest possible manner without challenge, then we will be able to get no witness before Congress whatsoever.  This is not a partisan concern or a partisan exercise — I could not voice the principles at stake any better than Specter did yesterday:  do you think that Constitutional government in the US can survive if the President has the authority to reject lawful investigations through obstructive means?

I hope that we can vote this report out today, and that we can do so in a bi-partisan manner.

REP. SMITH OPENING:  “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”  JFK quote, Smith says that he was one of many President’s who asserted Executive Privilege at one point or another.  blah blah blah Clinton did it…and did I mention Hillary Clinton blah blah blah [CHS notes:  I see the hands of Dan Burton and Barbara Comstock in the crafting of this opening statement.  This is going to shape up, yet again, as a partisan battle, with no Republican Rep. standing for the Constitution and the Congress.  Shameful.] 

Dems are out of touch with reality.  Clinton, Carter and Truman Administration’s all relied on the type of exec. privilege that Bush is asserting.  Another myth is that this committee couldn’t get the information.  They could if they caved to all the WH demands that there be no oath, no transcript, and no disclosure of any of the e-mails and other documents sought.  [CHS notes:  Yes, why doesn’t Congress just roll over and rubbers tamp criminal wrongdoing?  Jeebus, why don’t all prosecutors do that, we’d all get along so much better and no criminals would ever be charged with crimes.]  Finally, the majority knows that it would leap to the barricades of executive privilege if this were a Democrat…blah blah blah…Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Whitewater, Clinton did it…blah blah blah.  Other shiny objects.  blah blah blah

REP. SANCHEZ OPENING:  Urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this report.  Miers and Bolten should be cited for contempt of Congress.  I find it interesting that the WH is not practicing at home what they are preaching abroad in Iraq — political conciliation.  The Committee has held 7 hearings on this matter — Conyers has reached out to Fielding time and time again to reach a compromise.  WH has based refusal to comply on sweeping claims of privilege that critics have called Nixonian in breadth.  We have found that the claims are neither narrowly drawn nor legally valid and, even if they were, the public interest in the information outweighs the claim of privilege.

Goes into the WH blocking enforcement of the contempt subpoenas by the DOJ.  [CHS notes:  This is really critical, and I hope they delve into this more deeply.  The WH is essentially pushing the DOJ to be the obstructing force into any lawful attempt to enforce subpoenas — using the DOJ as it’s private law firm, and as both a shield and accessory after the fact.  This is beyond disgusting, and the SPecter idea from yesterday that a special counsel be appointed to oversee this maybe the best way around it save inherent contempt proceedings.]  It is long past time that the Admin. end its manipulation of USAttys for partisan political gain.  WH officials cannot ignore lawful subpoenas with balnket claims.  It is long p[ast time for Congress to reassert itself as a co-equal branch of government.  If we allow the WH to thwart our efforts at lawful oversight, we set a shameful precedent for many Congresses to come.

REP. CANNON OPENING:  Heads down the prior “myth” theme.  Goes to an interview with Kyle Sampson previously held.  Was Miers involved?  To my knowledge, that was not the case.  Rove?  To my knowledge, that was not the case.  Jennings?  Taylor?  Etc. — same answer.  [CHS notes:  Because, you know, Kyle Sampson would have no reason at all whatsoever to cover WH ass, given his hopes for future political involvement in the Republican party, now would he?]  We don’t need to have a Cosntitutional showdown over this issue.  Goes into allegations about Iglesias — gosh, he wasn’t replaced with a partisan, he was replaced by a career prosecutor from the USAtty’s office, so that clearly shows there is no there there.  The obvious conclusion is that there was no political interference in Iglesias’ firing.  The Dems should admit that, if there were sincere.  [CHS notes:  Having Cannon talk about anyone else’s sincerity is really hilarious, considering his political “shiny object, change the subject”tendencies each and every time a GOP witness says something damaging in a hearing.]

We’ve investigated this matter for months, and I believe the facts show that the WH was not involved in wrongdoing in the USAtty firings.  Says that trying to get to the truth out of this from the WH is all about photo ops.

REP. CONYERS:  All other statements will be entered into the record.  Are there any amendments to the report?  Cannon has one.

Clerk reading the Amendment.  Page 3 after the Sentence :On June 3, 2007 — Mr. McNulty also was interviewed by staff.  In his interview, Mr. McNulty offered a great deal of information.  With regard to WH:  Even with all those e-mails that I have come to see, I still see the process by the Department having to put the individuals together on a list and get those back tothe WH.  As I sit here today, I think if Kyle had not put together a list, this might not have gone forward.

Page 5:  The committees have interviewed:  David Margolis, WIlliam Mercer, Michael Ellston, William Moschella, Mary Beth Buchannon, Michael Battle, and Matthew Frederick.  Mr. Margolis, when asked about the terminations, “Well, I’ve read newspaper articles after the fact and I’ve read Iglesias’ statements and McKay’s statements after the fact, but from anyone in leadership in the DOJ?  Absolutely not.  And they would have gotten a sharp stick in the eye from me if I had.”  From the WH?  “No.”  Margolis says that he is furious at Iglesias for not reporting the Sen. Dominici and Rep. Wilson calls about a particular case — that is against Dept. policy and we go to great lengths to ensure that there is no outside improper influence like that of cases.  Buchanon:  Not aware of politics of a defendant ever being taken into consideration.

Page 5:  This one is the Kyle Sampson interview bits that Cannon already discussed.

REP. CANNON ON AMEND.:  Going into his prior speech from the last HJC hearing about what happens if we fail in pushing forward on contempt, so we should just not do it because we make the Presidency even stronger.  The partisan results of what we do here have been significant, and what we do here will have a profound effect on how we function.  Margolis was furious, that is because he has strong feelings about the DOJ and its integrity.  Going into the failure of Iglesias not to report the calls from Sen. Dominici or Rep. Wilson.  Great deal of concern about the fundamental rules on how we govern ourselves.  The quotes that I include in my amendment make the case that there is nothing to go forward on — no way to justify the facts for going forward.  I want to hear evidence that wrongdoing has occurred — not just conclusions that wrongdoing has occurred.  Where are they?

Corruption has been raised several times.  Cannon says that we have to have evidence that there was corruption in the process, and we have no evidence that is the case.

(We’re having a weather service announcement, so I have to pause here for a moment until it concludes.)

REP. CONYERS:  I am struck by your statement in support of your amendment.  I assure you that we share this concern:  if we fail in this challenge for contempt, we can make this a more imperial president.  That is the last thing I want to do.  Cannon responds that he didn’t mean that, he’s worried about failing in court, that would make the presidency imperial.  Conyers says that your appeal for evidence is incomplete because the WH has withheld the materials and evidence from Congress that may or may not prove the case — we cannot get to that without the witnesses and documents which the WH continues to obstruct Congress from having.  Let me explain why those kinds of statements are not necessary for what we are doing this morning and why they do not belong in the report as we are voting on it.

This report is different from the product we normally are used to — this is closer to a report.  The parliamentarian has advised us is to have the report already written and formally before the committee — the committee considers a proposed resolution for the House to consider, and not the mark-up of underlying information.  We can add to the report for additional views — we are voting on the report before us as we do customarily with a bill.

Second, we need to keep in mind, we are not voting on our investigation today.  This is not dispositive of the investigation.  We are voting on the narrow issue of Miers and Bolten refusing to comply with the subpoenas we have issued in the investigation.  This sets our the factual predicate for the actions of the two persons who are impeding us from getting to the results.  This is not a brief for support — it is more int he nature of a procedural and jurisdiction predicate.  This has been prepared in close consultation  with the House Parliamentarian and House Counsel.  This is the appropriate form for this particular situation.  The memo prepared for the members gives a good overview of the issues involved.  When it comes time to write additional views, we will no doubt have a lot of them — they will all be included as submitted. 

But broader views of the investigation context do not belong in this document.  They should be included in the additional views. So that is why, members of the committee, although I welcome my colleagues views, I must oppose this amendment to include them in the report.

REP. SMITH:  Thanks the clerk for reading the amendment so well.  Then goes into why the amendment ought to be included because it makes the WH look better in its selective use of pulled quotes.  Smith supports the amendment.

REP. SMITH:  Thanks the clerk for reading the amendment so well.  Then goes into why the amendment ought to be included because it makes the WH look better in its selective use of pulled quotes.  Smith supports the amendment.

REP. SANCHEZ:  Would like to add her two cents on the amendment.  Adds a few selected items of data that do not fairly or accurately reflect the totality of the information gleaned from all of those interviews.  Says that McNulty gave inaccurate or incomplete testimony to Congress — and to take selected statements from him and assert that they are true doesn’t reflect the doubts about some of his information.  [CHS notes:  in other words, she’s calling Cannon’s amendment a smarmy, manipulative maneuver.]  We have e-mails from Miers asking about these firings and for other information.  Going to Margolis, he testified that he played only a marginal role in the process — and that he had only a scant few conversations about this.  He testified that he was angry at Iglesias, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with who put the firing list together and why.  It is a poor idea to take selected bits of testimony on skewed perspective which does not provide a context for the whole of the report.

REP. CANNON:  In the committee’s memo for the hearing, the majority states that “we have uncovered serious evidence of wrongdoing” (Exec. Summary, p. 1).  Questions about the conclusion on the firings having been potentially predicated on political considerations. 

REP. SANCHEZ:  She says that the factthat the report says “may” shows that they need the full information on this — which the refusal of Miers and Bolten to respond to the subpoena is obstructing.

REP. CONYERS:  Another amendment. 

REP. SENSENBRENNER:  Rise in support of the amendment.  This should be adopted.  I’d like to speak on another subject.  Bringing a civil contempt, brings a needless escalation of the conflict.  And this is an unnecessary provocation of a constitutional crisis.  [CHS notes:  Because, as we all know, Sensenbrenner has long been a proponant of the Congress rolling over and not looking into any WH wrongdoing.  Just look at his copious statements to that effect during the Clinton years…oh…wait…]  If we take this to court, then it will be viewed as a blank check for the President to do whatever they want to do in the future.  Taht being said, the proper thing to do to determine the executive privilege claim, aside from who said what, etc., is to direct the general counsel for the House to file a civil suit in the DCCir. exclusively on the executive privilege claim, to file an expedited civil claim and ask for expedited consideration — and this would resolve the issue.  There would be bi-partisan support for this.

This should not be a partisan issue to begin with — clash between two branches of government — reach out to us and apporach the executive privilege issue in a bi-partisan manner.

Am going to start a fresh thread

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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