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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Judge Holds that White House Aids Subject to Subpoena

President Bush's top advisers are not immune from congressional subpoenas, a federal judge ruled Thursday in an unprecedented dispute between the two political branches.

House Democrats called the ruling a ringing endorsement of the principle that nobody is above the law. They swiftly announced that the Bush officials who have defied their subpoenas, including Bush's former top adviser Karl Rove, must appear as part of a probe of whether the White House directed the firings of nine federal prosecutors. Democrats announced plans to open hearings at the height of election season.

The Bush administration was expected to appeal.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Bates said there's no legal basis for Bush's argument and that his former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, must appear before Congress. If she wants to refuse to testify, he said, she must do so in person. The committee also has sought to force testimony from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.

''Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena,'' Bates wrote. He said that both Bolten and Miers must give Congress all nonprivileged documents related to the firings.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration's efforts to bolster the power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch. Disputes over congressional subpoenas are normally resolved through political compromise, not through the court system. Had Bush prevailed, it would have dramatically weakened congressional authority in oversight investigations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it ''very good news for anyone who believes in the Constitution of the United States and the separation of powers, and checks and balances'' and said the ruling applies as well to Rove, who like Miers and Bolten has been cited by the Judiciary Committee for contempt.

''This decision should send a clear signal to the Bush administration that it must cooperate fully with Congress and that former administration officials Harriet Miers and Karl Rove must testify before Congress,'' Pelosi said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto and Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said they were reviewing the opinion and declined immediate comment.

Read article here. [Brooks Holland]

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/crimprof_blog/2008/07/judge-holds-tha.html

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