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A "Special Contempt" for Miers and Bolton

July 20, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

See that empty chair? That’s where former White House counsel Harriet Miers was subpoenaed to sit and testify last July before the House Judiciary Committee about the U.S. Attorney firings. As you can see, she didn’t show up; and neither did White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, who was also subpoenaed to appear at the hearing.

In February, the House voted to hold them both in “Contempt of Congress,” a charge which could put them in jail. But Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to take the next step of referring the contempt citations to a grand jury for investigation.

But there is a way for Congress to regain the upper hand. Last week, Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) introduced the Special Criminal Contempt of Congress Procedures Act, which allows the U.S. Court of Appeals to appoint an independent “Special Advocate” to prosecute the contempt charges when the Attorney General refuses to do so. Here’s an excerpt from Miller’s press release upon introducing the bill:

>“The law explicitly requires the Justice Department to present Contempt of Congress charges to the grand jury, but the Bush Administration claims Congress can not compel a U.S. attorney to prosecute contempt cases where the White House claims executive privilege,” said Rep. Miller. “Other presidents have made bodacious claims about their powers, but always compromised in the end. No president, not even Nixon, has gone this far before.”
>Under Congressman Miller’s bill, the Special Criminal Contempt of Congress Procedures Act, a federal court can appoint an independent “Special Advocate” to investigate and prosecute alleged Contempt of Congress charges passed by the House of Representatives against current and former executive branch employees, when the Justice Department fails to do so. Like the expired Independent Counsel statute, the Special Advocate established by Miller’s bill would technically work for the Attorney General, and thus be an employee of the executive branch. In practice, the Special Advocate would be largely independent from both the executive and legislative branches and not subject to undue political influences. Unlike the former Office of Independent Counsel, the Special Advocate would have a specific mandate, a finite budget, and a fixed two-year term of office.
>“Congress has to protect its powers under the Constitution to hold the President accountable whether Bush, McCain or Obama is in the oval office,” added Miller. “This bill gives Congress a way to enforce contempt in the future and restores constitutional checks and balances when the Justice Department refuses to act.”

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