"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


scandal of the week

You should care about this. The White House apparently decided sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning that it was worth fighting over to keep Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, despite the scandal over the political firings of 8 U.S. Attorneys that threatens to bring Gonzales and his deputy down.

As a political scientist who teaches about this stuff, I'm most interested in the potential confrontation over executive privilege, which you can read about here. Since a House panel just voted to authorize the issuance of subpoenas for White House and Justice Department aids (over the president's insistence that Congress should only be allowed to conduct limited, unrecorded interviews of those officials) and relevant documents, it appears we're headed for a confrontation. Bush said he would invoke executive privilege if his aides were required to testify in public under oath.

Why does this matter? It matters because this is a question about how transparent our government institutions should be. Presidents can claim executive privilege in matters of national security and other high-stakes issues. I think that presidential aides should be able to talk openly with their boss in order to help the president reach a decision. I also think that people like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton tried to abuse their executive privileges in the Watergate and Lewinsky scandals, respectively.

This is different. This is a question about the possible politicization of part of our justice system. And the question for me when it comes to executive privilege on this manner is: What does the president have to hide from Congress and the American public? If it was really a straightforward personnel decision, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. I doubt the president would be willing to go to court over it if such were the case. Is it the job of Congress to keep presidents from taking such actions? If not, whose job is it? We don't have an emperor in the United States. Presidents and their aides can't just do whatever they want in the name of their personal political goals. Has this happened in the Bush administration?

The Senate panel responsible for this issue put off voting on the subpoena issue until tomorrow, and you can be sure that there are people working behind the scenes to cut a deal. I am interested to see democracy in action. Will our system of checks and balances prevail, or will someone decide that Gonzales should resign in exchange for avoiding a public trial over the issue? We'll see.



Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Bush says he'll resist subpoenas in court. Many think he'll win because the Supreme Court is weighted in his favor. I'm not sure. Even Alito and Roberts like a fig leaf of legal reasoning and there seems to be none for denying Congress subpoena power. The Constitution considers Congress co-equal with the Executive and specifically grants subpoena power.
Nixon had the Watergate Tapes subpoenaed by Congress; Gerald Ford as VP had to testify before Congress; Bill Clinton as Pres. had to testify before Congress. All were required to do so under oath. There seems be zero precedent on Bush's side.
So, I think if Bush decides to resist subpoena, the Supreme Court might decide against him. If they decide with him (this is a VERY rightwing Court), the only remedy Congress would have left is impeachment--where the Court has no reach.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 9:02:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I think they'll come to an agreement behind closed doors. But you're right, this really could provoke a constitutional crisis. At least someone is finally challenging the administration's use of power.

Thursday, March 22, 2007 10:19:00 AM


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