Sunday, July 01, 2007

¿Constitutional Crisis Looming?


This could get ugly.

The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the White House for information related to the U.S. Attorney purge scandal. The White House announced a few days ago that it would ignore the subpoenas. This morning on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) what happens next.

RUSSERT: You have asked the White House and others to respond to your subpoenas. They are now invoking executive privilege, and you said this: "We will take the necessary steps to enforce our subpoenas backed by the full force of law so that Congress and the public can get to the truth behind this matter." What does that mean, full force of the law? Is -- are we headed to a constitutional crisis?

LEAHY: I would hope not. That's why I say, they -- they've chosen confrontation rather than compromise or cooperation. The other administration -- in fact, I've been here with six administrations, Democratic and Republican, they've always found a way to, to work out and get the information Congress is entitled to. [...]

RUSSERT: Are you prepared to hold the Bush White House, the vice president, the attorney general and his office under contempt of Congress?

LEAHY: That is something that the whole Congress has to vote on. In our case, in the Senate, we'd have to vote on it; in the House, they would have to vote on it. I can't...

RUSSERT: Would you go that far?

LEAHY: If they don't cooperate, yes, I'd go that far. I mean, this is very important to the American people. If you're going to have -- for example, the, the bottom line on this, the U.S. attorneys investigation, is that we had people manipulation law enforcement. You -- law enforcement has, can't be partisan. Law enforcement can't decide, "Well, we'll arrest this person because they're a Democrat but not this person because they're Republican" or the other way around. And that is why I think you've found so many Republicans and Democrats who have been so critical and, and many of those, the most critical, are, like myself, former prosecutors.

If Congress passes a contempt-of-Congress measure, lawmakers would effectively be formally accusing the White House of a crime, which would then be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for consideration. Russert asked Leahy this morning, "Are you sure the U.S. Attorney would prosecute?" The chairman responded, "Well, I think it'd be very difficult for him not to." (Crooks & Liars has a video clip of the interview.)

Stay tuned.

-- Steve Benen

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