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US House speaker calls for grand jury to consider contempt charges against Bush aides

US House speaker calls for grand jury to consider contempt charges against Bush aides

The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked the Justice Department on Thursday to open a grand jury investigation into whether President George W. Bush's chief of staff and former counsel should be prosecuted for contempt of Congress.
Pelosi, a Demcrat, demanded that the department pursue misdemeanor charges against former White House counsel Harriet Miers for refusing to testify to Congress about the firings of federal prosecutors in 2006 and against chief of staff Josh Bolten for failing to turn over White House documents related to the dismissals.
The firings led to the resignation last year of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a close Bush friend and longtime adviser.
She gave Attorney General Michael Mukasey one week to respond and said refusal to take the matter to a grand jury will result in the House's filing a civil lawsuit against the Bush administration.
Neither the department nor White House had an immediate comment.
The Democratic-controlled House voted two weeks ago to hold Bolten and Miers in contempt for failing to cooperate with committee investigations.
"There is no authority by which persons may wholly ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed because a president unilaterally instructs them to do so," Pelosi wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey. She noted that Congress subpoenaed Miers to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the firings.
"Surely, your department would not tolerate that type of action if the witness were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury," Pelosi wrote.
She added: "Short of a formal assertion of executive privilege, which cannot be made in this case, there is no authority that permits a president to advise anyone to ignore a duly issued congressional subpoena for documents."
Administrations of both parties have invoked executive privilege, arguing that aides would not give their best advise to the president if they knew they might be called before Congress to testify under oath.
Pelosi sent an additional letter to U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor, the chief federal prosecutor for the Washington area, whose office would oversee the investigation.
The letters point to sections of federal law that require the Justice Department to bring the House contempt citations before a grand jury to investigate.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, said he hoped Pelosi's demand would spur the department to "put the partisan manipulation of our system of justice behind it" and take the issue to a grand jury. "To do otherwise would turn on its head the notion that we are all equally accountable under the law," said Conyers, D-Mich.
The department long has resisted directing its prosecutors to enforce congressional subpoenas against White House officials.
The House voted 223-32 this month to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt for failing to cooperate with an inquiry into whether the prosecutors' firings were politically motivated. Angry Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walkout in an unusually bitter scene even for the fractious House.
At the time, the Bush administration was no less harsh, saying the information sought by the House was off-limits under executive privilege and that Bolten and Miers were immune from prosecution. The White House said the department would not ask the U.S. attorney to pursue the House contempt charges.
It was the first time in 25 years that a full chamber of Congress voted on a contempt of Congress citation. The White House pointed out that it was the first time that such action had been taken against top White House officials who had been instructed by the president to remain silent to preserve executive privilege.
"This action is unprecedented, and it is outrageous," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said after the Feb. 14 vote.
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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-03 14:20 GMT+08:00