Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Contempt of Congress 

Tough week for the rule of law, huh? Only yesterday we learned that the President had the hitherto-undoumented power to set it aside, and today it comes out that the Attorney General, if the mood strikes him, has the right to ignore it altogether:
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, testifying before a congressional committee, refused to release or discuss memoranda that news reports say offered justification for torturing suspected terrorists. Two Democratic senators said Ashcroft's stance may constitute contempt of Congress, a federal crime.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Ashcroft about reports in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times that the Justice Department advised the White House in 2002 and 2003 that it might not be bound by U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. Ashcroft said he wouldn't reveal advice he gave to President George W. Bush or discuss it with Congress.

"The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence," Ashcroft said. He also refused to answer whether he personally believes torture can be justified under certain circumstances.

Senator Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, challenged Ashcroft to say whether he was invoking executive privilege in refusing to give Congress the Justice Department memos. Ashcroft said he wasn't invoking executive privilege.

"You might be in contempt of Congress, then," Biden replied. "You have to have a reason. You better come up with a good rationale."

The committee's chairman, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, gave no indication that he intends to pursue a contempt citation against Ashcroft. The citation, if approved by the full House or Senate, triggers a criminal investigation by a federal prosecutor.

Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Ashcroft had to cite a federal statute to justify not sharing the requested information. Ashcroft replied that his refusal was "protected by the doctrine of separation of powers in the Constitution." Durbin shot back, "You are not citing a law."
The law Mr. Ashcroft failed to cite is an ancient one that traditionally goes by the initials C.Y.A. (and in cases of this kind, you can insert an optional B for "boss's" in the appropriate position).

Want to know why it's vital that Democrats retake the Senate? The concise answer is "power of subpoena." California would still be suffering through its bogus "energy crisis" if modern mugwump Jim Jeffords hadn't bolted the GOP back in 2001.

UPDATE (via Is That Legal?): The key memo, entitled "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism: Assessment of Legal, Historical, Policy, and Operational Considerations," has just been posted (in .PDF format) at the Newsweek site.

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