Bush orders Miers not to testify
WASHINGTON POST — President Bush ordered former counsel Harriet Miers to defy a congressional summons, even as a second former aide told a Senate panel Wednesday she knew of no involvement by Bush in the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors. Contempt citations against both women were a possibility.
House Democrats threatened to cite Miers if she refused to appear as subpoenaed for a Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. The White House said she was immune from the subpoena and Bush had directed her not to appear, according to Miers’ lawyer. Democrats said her immunity ended when she left her White House job.
Across the Capitol, meanwhile, former White House political director Sara Taylor found out what Miers may already have known: It’s almost impossible to answer some committee questions but not others without breaching either the subpoena or Bush’s claim of executive privilege.
After first refusing to answer questions about Bush’s possible role in the firings, Taylor later told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she knew of no involvement by the president. Further, she said, she knew of no wrongdoing by administration officials in the controversy that has hobbled the Justice Department and imperiled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The developments whipped across Washington as part of a broader dispute over the boundaries of Bush’s executive power and Congress’ oversight duty. Democrats, in control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years, are probing whether the White House ordered the prosecutor firings in ways that might help Republicans in elections.
The Bush administration acknowledges that the firings were clumsily carried out but insists no wrongdoing occurred. Bush has offered to allow his aides, including counselor Karl Rove, Miers and Taylor, to be interviewed by congressional investigators _ but only in private and without a transcript.
Democrats on the committees rejected the offer and subpoenaed Miers and Taylor to appear this week, a possible foreshadowing of what’s to come for Rove.
In letters dated Tuesday, White House Counsel Fred Fielding told Miers’ lawyer that Bush had ordered her to stay away from Thursday’s hearing.
“Ms. Miers has absolute immunity from compelled congressional testimony as to matters occurring while she was a senior adviser to the president,” Fielding wrote to Miers’ lawyer, George T. Manning. “The president has directed her not to appear at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, July 12, 2007.”
Manning, in turn, notified committee chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., chairwoman of the subcommittee on commercial and administrative law.
Conyers had previously said he would consider pursuing criminal contempt citations against anyone who defied his committee’s subpoenas.
“A refusal to appear before the subcommittee tomorrow could subject Ms. Miers to contempt proceedings,” Conyers and Sanchez, wrote back to Manning. “The subcommittee will convene as scheduled and expects Ms. Miers to appear as required by her subpoena.”