ATTEMPTS by Congress to obtain information from the White House are worthy of respect, and if subpoenas or stronger measures are necessary to achieve testimony or documents, they should be enforced.
A Congress led after the 2006 elections by a Democratic majority has worked hard since then to try to restore the normal constitutional relationship between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
This relationship, which includes congressional oversight of executive branch activities, had pretty much been abdicated by Republicans when they controlled both the White House and the Congress during the previous six years.
It is an almost sacred relationship that is essential to the functioning of government in the United States. The executive branch usually initiates and carries out policies, the Congress then funds or does not fund those activities, and provides commentary and modification along the way based on its oversight function.
Presumably reluctant to acquiesce to the post-election reality, the Bush Administration has shown a tendency to kick and scream when the 110th Congress has attempted to play its oversight and inquiry role, particularly with respect to seeking information from White House staff.
With regard to querying administrations officials on their deliberations regarding, for example, the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys or the legality of Mr. Bush s domestic surveillance program, the White House has sometimes simply refused to make relevant officials or documents available to the relevant Congressional committees.
The list of those Congress wants to question includes political counselor Karl Rove, former White House legal counsel Harriet Miers, and White House aide Scott Jennings.
The administration flat out refuses to allow them to testify.
Congress has now subpoenaed them and held two people, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Ms. Miers, in contempt.
The White House has so far stonewalled the Congress at virtually every turn and suggested as well that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales s Department of Justice will refuse to enforce any contempt actions the Congress might institute against the officials in question.
This matter is thus about a whisker away from becoming a constitutional crisis.
Apart from the fact that White House officials work for the American government
the same as any other civil servant does and are thus accountable to America s
elected officials and the American people, this kind of above the law attitude has gone far enough.
Even the executive privilege argument that the President has a right to the confidential counsel of his advisers doesn t wash in this matter. Some of those being protected from questioning are relatively low-ranking and, at least in the case of the U.S. attorney firings, Mr. Bush s subordinates have claimed all along that he himself was not involved.
In any case, Congress and the American people have a right to know what federal
officials have done and are doing in their name. Telling them it is none of their business is unacceptable. The Congress will need to pursue this problem to the end.
A reporter spent 85 days in jail in 2005 for refusing to testify before a grand jury in the
Valerie Plame case. The White House untouchables would benefit from a little jail time if they continue to refuse to testify.
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