A federal judge yesterday refused to delay his order requiring former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to testify in Congress, another legal setback for the Bush administration's attempts to limit cooperation with Democratic lawmakers.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates rejected the administration's argument that Miers should not be required to cooperate with Congress while the government appeals an earlier ruling he issued.
In the previous decision, Bates rejected the administration's assertions that Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten were protected by executive privilege and could not be forced to testify or provide documents to Congress about the controversial firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. The judge said that the government's position was excessively broad and that senior aides must be more specific about the information they say is protected.
The new ruling will make it more difficult for Miers to avoid testifying by running out the clock on the 110th Congress, which ends in early January. Without a stay, she could be compelled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee as early as next month.
Lawmakers are seeking testimony from Miers and documents from Bolten as part of an ongoing inquiry into the prosecutor firings and broader allegations of politicization at the Justice Department, primarily under former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales. The House and Senate judiciary panels also have voted to hold former presidential adviser Karl Rove in contempt for refusing to testify about the dismissals.
In his ruling yesterday, Bates wrote that "Ms. Miers' testimony may help Congress finally determine what remedial legislative steps, if any, should be taken in response to the forced resignations."
The judge also wrote that the administration "has supplied no justification, and the court cannot fathom one, for its failure to turn over non-privileged documents to the committee."
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the Judiciary Committee's chairman, said he is "heartened" by the ruling and vowed to "promptly schedule a hearing" for Miers.
"Today's ruling clearly rejects the White House's efforts to run out the clock on the committee's investigation," Conyers said in a statement.
The Justice Department is reviewing the judge's order, according to spokesman Charles Miller.
The Bush administration asserted that neither Miers nor Bolten should be forced to comply with congressional subpoenas while the government appeals Bates's previous ruling.
The judge rejected that argument, however, writing that "it is difficult to see how the Executive can demonstrate that it has a substantial likelihood of success on appeal, or even that a serious legal question is presented."
Bates added: "Simply calling an issue important -- primarily because it involves the relationship of the political branches -- does not transform the Executive's weak arguments into a likelihood of success or a substantial appellate issue."