You Don't Get Your Oversight

by dday

Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten won't be testifying to Congress anytime soon. Not until their Dear Leader is on an island somewhere:

Time will run out on this year's congressional session before the battle between two branches of government can be resolved, according to the ruling by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The ruling essentially pushes any resolution on the politically charged case until next year.

"The present dispute is of potentially great significance for the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches," wrote the panel of judges, two of whom were appointed by Republicans.

Still, the judges wrote, "Even if expedited, this controversy will not be fully and finally resolved by the judicial branch ... before the 110th Congress ends on January 3, 2009. At that time, the 110th House of Representatives will cease to exist as a legal entity, and the subpoenas it has issued will expire."

There you have it, folks. The White House has basically altered the relationship between the executive and legislative branch permanently. Future Presidents now know that if they push aggressively enough, if they evade oversight and subpoenas and dare the Congress to stop them, nothing will come of their actions, no matter how illegal they are.

It's worth going back and understanding what the White House actually did in this case, a series of events now illuminated by the recent OIG report on Justice Department politicization, the facts of which did nothing to persuade the circuit court that decisive action needed to be taken. We now know that the executive branch, led by Karl Rove, absolutely played a role in the firing of US Attorneys in 2006. There are emails between Rove and officials in New Mexico proving his role in the firing of David Iglesias, for example, because of Iglesias' refusal to swiftly prosecute Democrats and bogus voter fraud cases. They made room for a political friend of Rove's, Tim Griffin, at the US Attorney's office in Arkansas by firing Bud Cummins. And they conspired with Senator Kit Bond to remove the federal prosecutor in Missouri:

In Missouri, evidently, Republican politics are exceptionally bloody, with clans fighting like rival mobs whose carnage spreads to other locales and sweeps in innocent civilians.

This is what former U.S. attorney Todd P. Graves discovered when he was ousted in January 2006 by the Justice Department. He got his first inkling of trouble in 2004 not from the department, but from an aide to Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), whose office was then embroiled in a bitter dispute with Graves's brother, a U.S. congressman.

In a telephone call, the aide angrily warned Graves that if he did not intervene on Bond's behalf -- against his brother's chief of staff -- the senator "could no longer protect [his] job." Graves refused, and a little over a year later, he was bounced from his Kansas City office after Bond's staff made repeated complaints to the White House counsel's office.

More on the Graves firing here.

This is all out in the open despite pervasive, continuous stonewalling on the part of White House officials, refusing to comply with any and all investigations into their conduct, including the OIG report put together by their own Justice Department. But the evidence is nonetheless clear and thorough.

The White House's active involvement in the firings, as depicted in the report, can be divided into two broad categories: First, its role in initiating and promoting the overall plan to remove an unspecified number of U.S. attorneys -- traditionally treated as apolitical prosecutors who operate independently from the political agenda of the administration -- deemed insufficiently committed to the Bush agenda. And second, its apparent work in pushing specifically for several of the most high-profile dismissals.

You can see the wealth of evidence at the handy link from TPM Muckraker. It need not be repeated here.

What must be repeated is how easily the White House has evaded any accountability for these clear crimes of politicization of the Justice Department. They took advantage of the lack of teeth in such federal statutes like the Hatch Act, which offers remedies only to the firing of those responsible, by having the perpetrators resign. They allowed an investigation to be released but only one coming from an internal monitor, not an independent investigation from Congress or a special counsel. The report was so damning that the Attorney General was forced to name a prosecutor to investigate the crimes further, but he refused to make her independent from the DoJ, and he gave her a 60 day mandate so that the investigation could not spread beyond the current Presidential term in office, after the election and before the new President begins his term. And now, as that investigation will be wrapped up before Miers, Bolten or anyone else would ever have to testify, their testimony will not factor into this accelerated timeline.

Indeed, in order to get Miers and Bolten on the record, the House Judiciary Committee would have to file subpoenas all over again, as they will have expired, and go through the exact same stonewalling. Thus far absolutely nobody has paid even the smallest price for the US Attorney purges, other than moving from their cushy jobs to some other cushy wingnut welfare sinecure.

This is the crisis of accountability we are facing due to the expansiveness of executive power over decades and consistent enabling from the Congress as they fail time and again to enact basic oversight in real time. This scandal represents the failure of our system, a loophole in the Constitution that extremists have successfully exploited.