[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia Thursday rejected arguments [opinion, PDF; CREW press release] that senior White House officials are protected from congressional subpoena by executive privilege, ruling that former White House legal counsel Harriet Miers [official profile] must testify before a House committee regarding the US Attorneys firing scandal [JURIST news archive]. Judge John Bates did find that Miers may claim executive privilege in response to certain questions, but he ordered Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten [official profile] to turn over all documents requested by the subpoena and a list of any documents withheld under executive privilege. Bates wrote:
[E]xecutive privilege is not absolute even when Congress -- rather than a grand jury -- is the party requesting the information. And a claim of absolute immunity from compulsory process cannot be erected by the Executive as a surrogate for the claim of absolute executive privilege already firmly rejected by the courts. Presidential autonomy, such as it is, cannot mean that the Executives actions are totally insulated from scrutiny by Congress. That would eviscerate Congresss historical oversight function.Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said [press release] in response to the opinion that the Bush administration's use of executive privilege has only allowed it to hide its "inappropriate and illegal actions," and US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) also lauded the decision, saying [press release] that the ruling is a reaffirmation the governmental system of checks and balances. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.
In February, members of the House voted [JURIST report] to hold Miers in contempt of Congress [Cornell Law backgrounder] for failing to testify and both Miers and Bolten in contempt for refusing to produce documents related to the 2006-2007 firings. The White House has said that the information sought in the inquiry is protected by executive privilege [press briefing transcript] and that both Miers and Bolten are immune from prosecution. In March, the House Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] to enforce subpoenas seeking information from Miers and Bolten regarding the US Attorneys firing scandal. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Karl Rove in contempt [Reuters report] for defying a subpoena to testify about the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice.