Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Leahy: White House "Contemptuous of the Congress"

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, ripped into George W. Bush on Monday after receiving a letter from White House Counsel Fred Fielding stating that Senate subpoenas for documents and staff testimony in the Justice Department political firings would be met with silence and a specious claim of executive privilege.

Directly accusing the Bush administration of having something to hide, Leahy took to the Senate floor and said that his committee's efforts at Congressional oversight have been met with "Nixonian stonewalling that reveals this White House’s disdain for our system of checks and balances."

"This is more stonewalling from a White House that believes it can unilaterally control the other co-equal branches of government," said Leahy. "It raises the question: What is the White House trying to hide by refusing to turn over evidence?"

The Judiciary Committee chairman also pointed out that previous statements made by the White House indicated that the firing of U.S. attorneys was handled solely by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department and that answers for Congress on the issue had to come from Gonzales and his staff -- only to now claim that the investigation should be stymied because of presidential privilege.

"This President and the Attorney General have also from time to time expressed confidence that the Congress would get to the bottom of this as if they did not know the details of what had transpired," said Leahy yesterday. "Are we now to understand from the White House claims of executive privilege that these were decisions made by the President? Is he taking responsibility for this scandal, for the firing of such well-regarded and well performing U.S. attorneys?"

And Leahy was very direct in accusing the Bush administration of using a bogus executive privilege claim to cover for White House political operatives who got involved in a highly-partisan manner with Justice Department personnel decisions.
"Even this White House cannot dispute the evidence we have gathered to date showing that White House officials were heavily involved in these firings and in the Justice Department’s response to congressional inquiries about them.

"The White House continues to try to have it both ways, but at the end of the day it cannot. It cannot block Congress from obtaining the relevant evidence and credibly assert that nothing improper occurred. What is the White House hiding? Was the President involved and were his earlier statements to the American people therefore misleading? Or is this simply an effort by the White House legal team to protect White House political operatives whose partisan machinations have been discovered in a new set of White House horrors?"
The Vermont Senator also made it very clear that he believes the Senate has given the White House many opportunities to cooperate in the investigation and that Bush's “take it or leave it” offers at feigned compliance illustrate an underlying contempt for Congress as a coequal branch of government.

"It is apparent that this White House is contemptuous of the Congress and feels that it does not have to explain itself to anyone-- not to the people’s representatives in Congress, nor to the American people," said Leahy. "I am reluctant to agree to anything that prevents Congress from doing our oversight job effectively. Previous Administrations have found ways to work with Congress – this Administration seems only to obstruct and obfuscate."

Of course, part of Team Bush's phony "negotiations" have involved offering to allow staff to testify before Congress, but only if they don’t have to do it under oath. In other words, as long as they can lie with impunity, this administration has no problem with cooperating.

And Leahy's having none of that.

"This Administration has instituted an abusive policy of secrecy aimed at protecting themselves from embarrassment and accountability," he said. "Apparently the President and Vice president feel they are above the law. In America no one is above the law."