President Bush has treated Congress with contempt for more than six years.But the most regal executive to reign over the United States since King George III was deposed has never displayed that contempt so aggressively as he did Wednesday.
On the eve of former White House counsel Harriet Miers' scheduled testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, she was ordered by the president to defy the subpoena she had been issued by the committee.
The president's lawyers claimed that Miers has "absolute immunity from compelled congressional testimony" in regard to the investigation of the administration's politicization of federal investigations and prosecutions.
According to current White House counsel Fred Fielding, Miers does not need to cooperate with congressional inquiries into "matters occurring while she was a senior adviser to the president."
That was enough for the former counsel's lawyer, George T. Manning, to notify Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Mich., that Miers would refuse to appear at Thursday's session to answer questions about the role played by the White House in forcing the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys.
Unlike former White House political director Sara Taylor, who answered a subpoena to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday but refused to answer most questions, Miers will not offer even a bare minimum of respect for the system of checks and balances that gives Congress the authority to investigate wrongdoing in the White House.
"As a former public official and officer of the court, Ms. Miers should be especially aware of the need to respect legal process," complained Conyers.
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The committee chair said he was, "extremely disappointed in the White House's direction to Ms. Miers that she not even show up to assert the privilege before the committee."
That disappointment is understandable.
But disappointment is not enough.
The administration's casual disregard for subpoenas issued by Congress demands a response.
Conyers has spoken of seeking Contempt of Congress citations against current and former administration aides who refuse cooperate with his committee.
It's time, not merely to defend the authority of the Congress but to reassert respect for the role of the Constitution in defining proper relations between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
Copyright © 2007 The Nation