Sunday, February 17, 2008

Resetting the Table 

It may prove, in the end, an act of gratuitous cruelty, but until it does we are grateful to our distinguished colleague Scott Horton of Harper's for offering us, in his Friday analysis of the 223-32 House vote to issue contempt sanctions against White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, a faint but extremely welcome glimmer of hope:
The Department of Justice’s internal investigation into the December 7 firings is coming to a conclusion. I am told that it is highly likely that this investigation will conclude that the decision to fire New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was clearly motivated by improper reasons. Iglesias resisted efforts by members of the New Mexico Congressional delegation (including Heather Wilson, who joined Boehner in his infantile march to the Capitol steps) to get him to bring a prosecution of a prominent Democrat in the weeks just before the 2006 elections in order to help influence the results. Being rebuffed by Iglesias, the New Mexico Republicans went to the people they knew pulled the prosecutorial strings all across the country: Karl Rove and his staff in the White House. And that path led to Iglesias’s firing.

The investigation into the firing of the U.S. Attorneys in Phoenix, Seattle and San Diego is showing similar signs of improper tampering with prosecutions by White House figures for partisan political reasons.

I am betting that [Judiciary Committee Chairman John] Conyers is pretty well informed about all of this and is awaiting the release of the internal Justice Department study, just as the White House and its political cronies in Justice are busily attempting to throw sticks in the spokes of the investigation to slow it down and delay the issuance of a final report with recommendations.

Now the Justice Department’s investigation focuses only on Alberto Gonzales, Paul McNulty and a handful of other senior political appointees, almost all of whom have left. It does not have the jurisdiction to address staffers in the White House like Rove, Miers and Bolten, nor indeed, President Bush.

But they are clearly within the jurisdictional remit of the Judiciary Committee. Moreover, if the Justice Department’s report implicates not just Rove, Miers and Bolten, but also Bush in the decision to fire for improper reasons—a conclusion which is now looking extremely likely—then it will be up to Conyers’s committee to press the investigation forward. In so doing, he is entitled to conduct hearings on the footing of impeachment. If he does, the executive privilege objection interposed by the White House and backed in another Constitution-defying opinion of the Attorney General, would not apply.

My guess is that the chess players are thinking several steps ahead of the game. It may or may not come to the sort of inquiry I am envisioning—that will depend in the first instance on the Justice Department’s own internal conclusions, and the pressure for the Justice Department to simply whitewash the matter may prove irresistible. But if it does come to a pointed inquiry into criminal conduct in the Oval Office relating to the dismissals, Conyers and his Committee want to be in a position to demonstrate that they have exhausted the other remedies—subpoenas and contempt citations—and have been stymied by the White House. In a sense, the White House will be forcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry by its own intransigence.

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