Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harriet Miers, Going to Jail?

As she said she would, Harriet Miers skipped the House hearing she was supposed to attend regarding the firing of US District Attorneys. Now, the committee has cleared the way for Contempt of Congress charges to be filed. An earlier AP report I read cited the fact that the US District Attorney in DC would have to prosecute such charges, and it would be unlikely Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez would authorize such a prosecution as he is the one being investigated.

However, in an article written by John W. Dean two months ago about the contempt that Gonzalez and the Administration have for Congress, he pointed out another avenue they could take:
Congress has two routes to travel, once it holds any person in contempt. It can proceed by the statutory route, which requires the Department of Justice to handle the prosecution. But since the Attorney General could block that route, the Congress would have good reason to use its inherent powers and procedures, instead.

Thus, Congress could --taking a page from Gonzales's playbook -- send fifteen plainclothes Capitol Hill police officers to arrest the Attorney General and take him into custody. Either the House or Senate, alone, would have the power to hold him until the end of the 110th Congress. In truth, a majority of either chamber of Congress has more power than a president, the Department of Justice, and federal courts to take summary actions against those who refuse to honor its processes.

Of course, this is not likely to happen. Congress has the power to do so if it so chooses. But because most of those in Washington with experience do not think like Gonzales, they will exhibit respect for interbranch customs instead of simply jailing the Attorney General.

Will this latest play by the President push those holding restraint and maintaining institutional respect past the tipping point? It should be interesting to see how this all plays out; but considering they've already taken the first steps to start the contempt proceedings it seems Congress's patience with the President has worn out.

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