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Federal judge rules Bush aides can be subpoenaed
Published: Thursday July 31, 2008

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Update: Pelosi says Rove contempt citation possible

President Bush's top advisers are not immune from congressional subpoenas, a federal judge ruled Thursday in an unprecedented dispute between the two political branches.

The House Judiciary Committee wants to question the president's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and former legal counsel Harriet Miers, about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. But President Bush says they are immune from such subpoenas. They say Congress can't force them to testify or turn over documents.

U.S. District Judge John Bates disagreed. He said there's no legal basis for that argument. He said that Miers must appear before Congress and, if she wants to refuse to testify, she must do so in person.

"Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena," Bates wrote.

He said that both Bolten and Miers must give Congress all non-privileged documents related to the firings.

From the ruling:

"Indeed, the aspect of this lawsuit that is unprecedented is the notion that Ms. Miers is absolutely immune from compelled congressional process. The Supreme Court has reserved absolute immunity for very narrow circumstances, involving the President's personal exposure to suits for money damages based on his official conduct or concerning matters of national security or foreign affairs.

The Executive's current claim of absolute immunity from compelled congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law."

The Bush administration can appeal the ruling. The Justice Department did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

Update: Pelosi says Rove contempt citation possible

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that a federal judge’s ruling that former White House counsel Harriet Miers has to appear before a congressional committee could pave the way for Congress approving a contempt citation against Karl Rove later in the day," Jared Allen reports for The Hill.

In her statement, Pelosi writes, "As public officials, we take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution seriously and today’s landmark ruling by the U.S. District Court is a great victory for the American people, the rule of law and balance of power. We must restore our nation’s fundamental system of checks and balances, and today’s ruling begins to restore that balance."

"As I told the House of Representatives in February when we passed the resolution authorizing this court case, congressional oversight is an institutional obligation to ensure against abuse of power," Pelosi continued. "And when there are credible allegations that law enforcement has been politicized, the need for congressional oversight is at its greatest. "

The Hill notes that "Pelosi said the ruling could give Congress a new impetus to hold Rove in contempt. Rove refused to respond to a subpoena requiring his appearance at a Judiciary hearing earlier this month on allegations of improper White House influence over the Justice Department."

"This decision should send a clear signal to the Bush Administration that it must cooperate fully with Congress and that former Administration officials Harriet Miers and Karl Rove must testify before Congress," Pelosi's statement concludes.

(With wire report)