Secret to Forcing Compliance with Subpoenas

By David Swanson

On April 10th, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the Justice Department for papers and Emails related to the apparently politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys. The deadline passed. The DOJ did not comply.

On April 25th, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about the forged documents used as evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Rice publicly refused to comply, arguing that she was “not inclined” to comply. Two deadlines passed. The committee chairman claimed to believe she would eventually change her mind. She hasn’t done so.

On June 13th the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House documents related to the US attorneys firings. The White House publicly refused to comply or to allow Miers to comply. The deadline passed.

Also on June 13th the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed White House Political Director Sara Taylor in regard to the US attorneys firings. The White House wrote a letter to the committee chairman refusing to comply. The deadline passed.

On June 27th the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed legal analysis and other documents concerning the NSA warrantless wiretapping program from the White House, from Vice President Dick Cheney, from the Department of Justice, and from the National Security Council. If the documents were not produced, testimony was required from White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Cheney Chief of staff David Addington, and National Security Council Executive Director V. Philip Lago. All of the above refused to comply. The deadline passed, and the committee chairman set a second deadline. That passed, and he set a third deadline. That third deadline has passed.

The above is a sampling of the outstanding subpoenas not complied with.

What options does Congress have?

1. Keep issuing subpoenas. Hope. Pray. Whine. Threaten. (This is the current strategy. For this and/or other reasons, Congress has the support of 18% of the nation.)

2. Attempt to hold individuals in contempt of Congress through the court system, with the only certain result being the wasting of many months on the process. (And we know Congress Members don’t like to do anything that takes that long, since they keep telling us they don’t have time for impeachment.)

3. Use a little-known procedure called inherent contempt to send the Sergeant at Arms to actually arrest people and lock them up for trial on Capitol Hill. (Most Congress Members have never even heard of this. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman recently had to be told by constituents what it was and how it works. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has threatened to use it but not done so. Given the spine shortage on the Hill, this seems very unlikely to happen.)

4. Pull out the third article of impeachment passed by the House Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974, the one charging him with refusing to comply with subpoenas, change a few words, and introduce new articles of impeachment against Rice, Cheney, and Bush.

Option #4 would not require that you believe the impeachments would succeed or that a trial in the Senate would result in conviction. It would only require that you desire people to comply with subpoenas.

This would accomplish a couple of very interesting things as well. Congress Members frequently tell their constituents that they cannot impeach Cheney or Bush because they don’t have solid evidence or time to dig it up. But Cheney and Bush have INDISPUTABLY refused to comply with subpoenas, which is established by precedent as an impeachable offense. Not only is no investigation whatsoever required, but none is even imaginable. These impeachments could take a day. Do one before lunch and one after. This is instant impeachment. Just add the will to do it.

Were one or more congress members to introduce such articles of impeachment, they would not come up for a vote right away. In the meantime, as they gained cosponsors and attention, the White House might just start complying with subpoenas. Certainly we know that when a serious movement in Congress to impeach Attorney General Alberto Gonzales picked up steam, there were results. Similarly, when Congress moved to impeach Nixon there were results. When it moved to impeach Truman there were results. When it promised never to impeach Ronald Reagan, as when it promised never to impeach George W. Bush, the results were deadly. Both failures left blood on the Democrats’ hands and brought losses for Democrats in the next elections. It’s hard to imagine why Democrats in Congress would want either of those things.

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