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Expanding claim of executive authority, White House official tells paper staff can't be charged
John Byrne
Published: Friday July 20, 2007
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A senior Bush Administration official unveiled a new strategy in Friday's Washington Post -- anonymously -- to combat Democrats in Congress who are clamoring to file contempt charges against officials who refuse to talk about the firings of nine US prosecutors.

In sum, this strategy amounts to, "once we say no, we can't be charged."

Ironically, President Bush's new legal argument hinges on whether one of his own US prosecutors can file charges against his staff.

According to the Post, "Administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts."

"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," a senior official told the Post, which granted the official anonymity because 'he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.' "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

Under law, a contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to Washington, D.C. US attorney, who then brings the charge to a grand jury.

"It has long been understood that, in circumstances like these, the constitutional prerogatives of the president would make it a futile and purely political act for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys," the anonymous Bush official added.

George Mason University professor of public policy Mark J. Rozell called the administration's stance "astonishing" in the article.

"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell told the reporter. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."

The White House did not inform Democrats of the plan, which the Post called a "bold new assertion of executive authority."

Reached for comment, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told the paper it was "an outrageous abuse of executive privilege" and said: "The White House must stop stonewalling and start being accountable to Congress and the American people. No one, including the president, is above the law."

Read the full article here.