Profile: Joshua Bolten
Joshua Bolten was a participant or observer in the following events:
Bush and Cheney in private discussion. [Source: Washington Post]Vice President Cheney, having just taken the oath of office minutes before, has a brief discussion of his new position with former Vice President Dan Quayle, who had served under George H. W. Bush. In 2007, Quayle will recall the discussion: “I said, ‘Dick, you know, you’re going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you’re going to be doing all this political fundraising… you’ll be going to the funerals.’ I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, ‘We’ve all done it.’” Cheney “got that little smile,” Quayle will recall, and replies, “I have a different understanding with the president.” Quayle adds, “He had the understanding with President Bush that he would be—I’m just going to use the word ‘surrogate chief of staff.’” Bush policy director Joshua Bolten will later say that Cheney wants, and is given, a mandate by Bush that gives him access to “every table and every meeting,” making his voice heard in “whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney sees the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television while meeting with his speechwriter John McConnell. He later claims that several other officials then come and join him in his White House office: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, and his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who has come across from the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, “As word of the attacks spread throughout the West Wing, many White House officials migrated to Cheney’s office.” As well as Rice, Libby, and Matalin, these include Sean O’Keefe, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget; Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff; and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 332] However, other accounts contradict this. Clarke claims that when he arrives at the White House shortly after 9:03, he sees the vice president and Rice, but the two are “alone in Cheney’s office” (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (It is possible, though, that the other officials only arrive after Clarke ends his brief visit to the vice president’s office.) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1-2] In numerous interviews where she discusses her actions this morning, Rice makes no mention of heading to Cheney’s office after the second tower is hit. [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 ; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; New York Times, 9/11/2002] Also, according to some accounts, the Secret Service evacuates Cheney from his office shortly after the second attack occurs (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] Cheney claims that President Bush phones him around this time, while he is still in his office. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] But according to White House adviser Karl Rove, who is with the president in Florida, Bush is unable to reach the vice president because Cheney is being evacuated from his office (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Michael Miller. [Source: US Navy]A number of White House staffers who are visiting New York make their way back to Washington, DC, following the attack on the Pentagon. About 15 members of the White House staff, including Joseph Hagin, the deputy chief of staff for operations, and Captain Michael Miller, the deputy director of the White House Military Office, are in New York conducting the “survey trip” for President Bush’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly later in the month (see September 10, 2001).
Staffers Learn of Crashes while Visiting US Mission to the UN - Earlier this morning, they went to the US Mission to the United Nations for some preliminary meetings with the mission staff about the president’s forthcoming visit. In a conference room there, shortly after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), Miller informed Hagin of the crash. After seeing the early coverage of the incident on television, Hagin called the military aide who is with the president in Sarasota, Florida, to check if he was aware of what had happened. The military aide told him, “We’re on it.”
Staffers Taken to Police Station - After the White House staffers watched the second plane hitting the WTC live on TV, a State Department security officer told Hagin: “Sir, you need to get out of here as quickly as possible. There are reports of other planes inbound into the city.” The White House staffers were then taken by the Secret Service to a police station in Midtown Manhattan, where it was thought they would be safe. From there, Hagin called Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff for policy, who is at the White House. As the attacks were considered to be “just a New York incident” at that time, Hagin will later recall, Bolten and his colleagues decided that Hagin “should go down and be with the mayor, and… be the federal face in New York for the time being.”
Some Staffers Fly toward Nebraska to Meet President - The New York City police and the Secret Service had been trying to work out how to get Hagin to Ground Zero. But when the Pentagon is attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), they decide that the White House staffers should return to Washington. The staffers are driven to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. There, they are split up. Eight of them, including Hagin, get on a military plane and head toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to meet the president, who has been taken to the base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). However, as they are flying over Missouri, they learn that Bush has decided to come back to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, their plane turns around and heads to the capital.
Hagin and Other Staffers Return to White House - After they land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, the staffers are driven to the White House. The time when they arrive there is unstated, but it is presumably around late afternoon or early evening. At the White House, Hagin goes to work immediately. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003] As the deputy chief of staff for operations, he is a key member of the White House staff. He is responsible for the management and administrative functions of the White House, plans all of the president’s travel, and oversees the president’s schedule. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 7/4/2008] Hagin will recall that, after reaching the White House, he is “very involved in the continuity of government and just how, operationally, we were going to deal with this.” He will remain at the White House for the next two days. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003]
Dick Cheney in the White House bunker, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. [Source: David Bohrer / White House] (click image to enlarge)The Secret Service, viewing projected path information about Flight 93, rather than actual radar returns, does not realize that Flight 93 has already crashed. Based on this erroneous information, a military aide tells Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the White House bunker that the plane is 80 miles away from Washington. Cheney is asked for authority to engage the plane, and he quickly provides it. The aide returns a few minutes later and says the plane is 60 miles out. Cheney again gives authorization to engage. A few minutes later and presumably after the flight has crashed or been shot down, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten suggests Cheney contact President Bush to confirm the engage order. Bolten later tells the 9/11 Commission that he had not heard any prior discussion on the topic with Bush, and wanted to make sure Bush knew. Apparently, Cheney calls Bush and obtains confirmation (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, there is controversy over whether Bush approved a shootdown before this incident or whether Cheney gave himself the authority to make the decision on the spot. As Newsweek notes, it is a moot point in one sense, since the decision was made on false data and there is no plane to shoot down. [Newsweek, 6/20/2004]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is informed that Vice President Dick Cheney wants him to come down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), located below the East Wing of the White House. Clarke heads down and, after being admitted by Cheney’s security detail, enters the PEOC. In addition to the vice president and his wife Lynne Cheney, the PEOC contains National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, and White House counselor Karen Hughes. Clarke can see the White House Situation on a screen. But Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference [that Clarke has been leading] because Mrs. Cheney keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN… and the vice president keeps hanging up the open line to you.” Clarke later describes that Lynne Cheney is, like her husband, “a right-wing ideologue,” and is offering her advice and opinions while in the PEOC. When Clarke asks the vice president if he needs anything, Cheney replies, “The [communications] in this place are terrible.” His calls to President Bush keep getting broken off. By the time Clarke heads back upstairs to the Situation Room, it is 12:30 p.m. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 17-19]
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is driven, by members of the Secret Service, to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is then escorted down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] Bush was brought to the Secret Service headquarters this morning for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136]
First Lady Reassured that No More Attacks Will Occur - There, she spent much of the afternoon “like most other Americans, glued to the television,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Bush was, however, “perhaps more at ease than the average American because her [Secret Service] agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.” Bush will later recall: “[A]fter some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes [in US airspace] had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television. So at some point we started feeling reassured that [a terrorist attack] wasn’t going to happen again that day.” After Bush and those with her learned that the president would be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush’s Secret Service agents decided that the first lady could go back to the White House.
First Lady Arrives at White House - At 6.30 p.m., she will recall, Bush gets into a Secret Service motorcade and is driven to the White House by Dave Saunders, one of her agents. [CNN, 9/11/2001; Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Bush, 2010, pp. 203] It is a short journey, as the Secret Service headquarters is just a few blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 8/23/2009] Bush is driven along the deserted streets and then her vehicle goes at full throttle through the gate of the White House. She notices “[h]eavily armed men in black” swarming over the White House grounds. She then gets out of the vehicle, preceded by her Secret Service agents.
First Lady Taken to Underground Conference Room - Bush is “hustled inside” the White House, she will recall, and taken “downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.” She then walks along the hallway below the White House to the PEOC, and is taken into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s “nerve center.” Those already in the room include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are also there. Lynne Cheney comes over and hugs the first lady. She then whispers into the first lady’s ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). This information, Bush will comment, causes a “shiver” to “vibrate down [her] spine.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] President Bush will join the first lady in the PEOC at 7:10 p.m., after he arrives at the White House (see 7:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush, 2010, pp. 204-205] Staffers who were with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters went to the White House and then headed home at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002]
Conservative columnist Robert Novak gives a draft of his upcoming column, which outs CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in the process of criticizing her husband, war opponent Joseph Wilson (see July 14, 2003), to lobbyist Richard Hohlt. Hohlt, whom Novak describes as “a very good source of mine” whom he talks to “every day,” faxes a copy of the Novak column to White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of Novak’s sources for Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff will later learn that Hohlt facilitated the conversation between Rove and Novak. Hohlt will confirm his action to Isikoff, who will write that by faxing the copy of the column to Rove, Hohlt is “giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.” Hohlt lobbies on behalf of clients such as Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and the Nuclear Energy Association. He is also a powerful fundraiser for the Republican Party, and will bring in over $500,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Hohlt is also the head of an influential group of Republicans called the “Off the Record Club,” whose membership includes other influential Republican lobbyists as well as White House officials such as Rove and Joshua Bolten. While Hohlt will minimize the group’s influence to Isikoff, Isikoff will describe it as “help[ing] the White House with damage control.” He will describe Hohlt as “[a]n accomplished information trader [who] serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all.” One club member will say that if you want information to appear in Novak’s column, the best way to make it happen is to work with Hohlt. Isikoff will write that Hohlt did not know that Rove told Novak of Plame Wilson’s identity. “I was just trying to be helpful,” Hohlt will say of the Rove fax. [Newsweek, 2/26/2007] Novak will later testify that he “assumed” that Hohlt would not share the column with anyone, though he will admit to a “vague recollection” that “he had told the WH [White House] that there was an interesting piece coming out.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 246-247]
According to the White House, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove gives up his day-to-day control over the Bush administration’s domestic policy in order to concentrate on the upcoming midterm elections. The announcement comes on the same day as press secretary Scott McClellan’s resignation announcement (see April 20, 2006). Many observers believe that the internal shakeup has something to do with the ongoing Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and the upcoming trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). The shakeup is being handled by White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, himself a recent replacement for the departed Andrew Card. Rove will retain his title and his position as President Bush’s senior adviser. “The president and the new chief of staff said they wanted me focused on the big strategic issues facing the administration,” Rove says. Rove’s domestic policy duties will be assumed by Joel Kaplan, the White House’s deputy budget director. Rove’s recent mishandling of the White House’s failed attempt to “sell” the privatization of Social Security to Congress and the citizenry is also a factor in his reassignment, observers note, as well as his poor handling of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the failed attempt to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Some Congressional Republicans believe Rove has too much influence within the White House, and is being distracted by the Plame Wilson investigation. The director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, James Thurber, says: “Karl Rove is a great guy in terms of developing issues for a campaign, but he’s not done well on advocating policy in a governance setting. The job is diminished, but he probably doesn’t mind that. He’s a racehorse in a campaign.” White House communications director Nicolle Wallace says Rove’s reassignment takes the White House back to its successful personnel strategy from the first Bush term: “We’re returning to the structure we had at the beginning of the first term. All that changes is that the management of the day-to-day policy process will be put under Joel. Karl will keep the high-yield strategic role that he’s always had.” But former Republican House member Vin Weber, a lobbyist who is close to the White House, says that Rove’s role in the White House will change little, and that the reassignment is largely cosmetic. “The notion that this is a demotion just doesn’t ring true to me,” Weber says. “He’s been the guy who wrote his own job description pretty much. I think that is still more true than less true.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) applauds the change, saying: “The White House has never separated politics from policy and that’s been one of the reasons for its undoing. Late is better than never, but the key for the White House will be getting a new person in charge of policy independent from Karl Rove who understands that policy is not simply politics.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean calls Rove’s reassignment a “demotion,” and says Bush should have fired Rove over his role in the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2006]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Vin Weber, Andrew Card, Scott McClellan, Charles Schumer, Nicolle Wallace, Karl C. Rove, Howard Dean, James Thurber, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joshua Bolten, Joel Kaplan, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who has faced an increasingly disbelieving and hostile Washington press corp in his role as Bush administration spokesman in handling the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 11, 2005), announces his upcoming resignation. Possible successors include Fox News commentator Tony Snow, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, though Clarke says she is not interested in the job. President Bush says McClellan has had “a challenging assignment.” He adds: “I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity. It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.” McClellan tells reporters that he has been considering leaving for weeks, ever since chief of staff Andrew Card announced his own resignation. “With a new chief of staff coming on board,” McClellan says, “it was a good time to make this decision. And three years would have been an awfully long time in this position. I’ve been at this for a long time and I didn’t need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all [reporters] kept tempting me.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2006; New York Times, 4/20/2006] Neither Bush nor McClellan tell the press that McClellan did not decide on his own to leave, but was asked to resign by Card’s successor, Joshua Bolten. In his 2008 book What Happened, McClellan will write that he had indeed considered leaving his position, perhaps by July 15, 2006, but was taken aback when Bolten informed him the week before that he had made the decision for him to leave. “[T]his is a White House that is severely crippled and in need of change,” Bolten told McClellan. “One area that I have decided needs to change is your position.” McClellan will write that his first, emotional response was, “He’s ready to throw me to the wolves,” but rationally, he understands that Bolten is just making a decision he feels he needs to make. “I had been on the defensive too often since the Rove revelations in July” (see July 10, 2005 and July 10, 2005), McClellan will write. “A press secretary cannot survive for long under such circumstances.” McClellan will add that when he discusses his upcoming resignation with Bush, the president seems regretful that he is leaving, but McClellan is not entirely convinced of Bush’s sincerity, even when Bush tears up during their brief conversation. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 298-301]
Jason Leopold. [Source: CrooksAndLiars (.com)]Investigative reporter Jason Leopold reports that White House political strategist Karl Rove has informed President Bush and other high-level White House officials that he will be indicted as a result of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and will resign his position in the Bush administration when special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald makes the indictment public. Leopold says his sources include “a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.” Rove has been stripped of his policy duties and is no longer deputy chief of staff, though White House officials claim the move is to allow him to focus completely on the 2006 midterm elections. Leopold’s sources say that a public announcement by Fitzgerald is not imminent, “despite the fact that Fitzgerald has already presented the grand jury with a list of charges against Rove. If an indictment is returned by the grand jury, it will be filed under seal.” Rove is said to have told White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten that he will be charged with perjury, stemming from his alleged lying under oath to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see October 15, 2004, October 14, 2005, and April 26, 2006). “We need to start fresh and we can’t do that with the uncertainty of Karl’s case hanging over our heads,” Leopold quotes one unnamed White House aide as saying. “There’s no doubt that it will be front page news if and when [an indictment] happens. But eventually it will become old news quickly. The key issue here is that the president or Mr. Bolten respond to the charges immediately, make a statement, and then move on to other important policy issues and keep that as the main focus going forward.” [Truthout (.org), 5/12/2006] Leopold’s reporting is incorrect; a month later, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).
Following the testimony of White House Security Director James Knodell to the House Oversight Committee, in which he admitted that the White House never conducted an internal probe of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 16, 2007), committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten asking why the probe had never been conducted. Waxman notes that “your senior political advisor, Karl Rove, and other senior White House officials were required to report what they knew about the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity, but they did not make any such report to the White House Office of Security; and [t]here has been no suspension of security clearances or any other administrative sanction for Mr. Rove and other White House officials involved in the disclosure.” Waxman observes that the decision not to mount an internal probe, and the decision not to revoke Rove’s security clearances, are “inconsistent with the directives of Executive Order 12958, which you signed in March 2003. Under this executive order, the White House is required to ‘take appropriate and prompt corrective action’ whenever there is a release of classified information. Yet Mr. Knodell could describe no such actions after the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity.” Waxman concludes: “Taken as a whole, the testimony at today’s hearing described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House. The first breach was the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity. Other breaches included the failure of Mr. Rove and other officials to report their disclosures as required by law, the failure of the White House to initiate the prompt investigation required by the executive order, and the failure of the White House to suspend the security clearances of the implicated officials.” Waxman requests that Bolten provide the committee “with a complete account of the steps that the White House took following the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity (1) to investigate how the leak occurred; (2) to review the security clearances of the White House officials implicated in the leak; (3) to impose administrative or disciplinary sanctions on the officials involved in the leak; and (4) to review and revise existing White House security procedures to prevent future breaches of national security.” [Speaker of the House, 3/16/2007]
The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]
The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 ; New York Times, 3/11/2008]
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