From the Washington Post:
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.
Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, “whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”
But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.
It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming. Still, there was a vanishing hope that, given their problems with Iraq, historically low approval ratings, and a long list of scandals, the administration might choose not to provoke a Constitutional crisis.
That hope, of course, forgets the role that Dick Cheney has in running the White House agenda. Dick Cheney, as you may recall, ranks among the world’s historical sore losers. Having been on the wrong side in Watergate, he has made it his life’s mission to “restore” to the Presidency powers it never was meant to have. As if bitten by a radioactive spider emerging from Dick Nixon’s drunken dream of power, Cheney has gained powers unknown to any previous Vice President, spinning a theory of Executive power that would have been extreme at Runnymede.
As long ago as 1215, the notion that there ought to be and were limits, that others could over-rule the King, was established. No wonder Dick Cheney seems so cranky all the time; it must be hard to feel personally responsible to correct a mistake made eight centuries ago.
Still, he’s been doing his part for years. Cheney, then a Congressman, leapt to the barricades in defense of Oliver North and the Iran-Contra conspiracy, writing an infamous minority report denying the ability of Congress to limit Presidential power.
In the Cheney view of Presidential power, Congress’ role is to write the checks that pay for whatever the President chooses to do, and to smile about it. And if, for some ridiculous reason, Congress gets the idea that the Executive owes it anything, they should get over it. It’s a Congressman’s job to protect Executive authority, not to assert any independent power of his own.
And the suggestion that someone in the Department of Justice might work for the United States Government (having taken an oath to uphold the Constitution) and not just for the President? That’s a notion that really needed to be smacked down, and hard. Cheney can’t have people getting confused, like former White House aide Sara Taylor.