In fact, it used to be that laws in this country could be applied to everyone, even presidents. When President Richard Nixon refused to comply with subpoenas from a prosecutor, the Supreme Court told him he had to. When Nixon refused to comply with subpoenas from Congress, the House Judiciary Committee passed an article of impeachment against him. Nixon claimed "executive privilege," and the Supreme Court and Congress both told him to take his privilege and stick it in a helicopter home.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have refused to comply with numerous subpoenas, have instructed current and former staff not to comply, and have refused to enforce contempt citations arising out of their refusal to comply with subpoenas. They have also instructed current and former staffers who testified to refuse to answer certain questions, and to claim "executive privilege." On Thursday John Yoo, former member of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, refused to answer questions in a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing claiming "executive privilege."
When the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed White House Political Director Sara Taylor and Deputy Political Director J. Scott Jennings a year ago, they showed up and refused to answer questions. A complete list of witnesses who have thus refused would be quite long.
--A House Judiciary Committee subpoena for documents from the Department of Justice, issued April 10, 2007;
--A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoena for the testimony of the Secretary of State, issued April 25, 2007;
--A Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena for documents and testimony of White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, issued June 13, 2007;
--A Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena for documents and testimony of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, issued June 26, 2007;
--A Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena for documents from the White House, Vice President Richard Cheney, the Department of Justice, and the National Security Council. If the documents are not produced, the subpoena requires the testimony of White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Chief of Staff to the Vice President David Addington, and National Security Council executive director V. Philip Lago, issued June 27, 2007;
--A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoena for testimony of Lt. General Kensinger;
--A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoena for documents from the Environmental Protection Agency, issued April 16, 2008.
This is a partial list based on no sort of thorough research whatsoever. And not all subpoenas are ever publicized. So, who knows what the full extent of this pattern of behavior comes to? The list already dwarfs Nixon's and is probably much longer. And, remember, these are actual subpoenas. These don't include rejected requests not in the form of subpoenas, or votes by committees to approve subpoenas that the chairman never bothers to send. And remember, too, that a number of these subpoenas are for unnecessary evidence related to crimes and offenses already solidly documented. Congress members, afraid to produce articles of impeachment, have produced subpoenas instead, and then discovered that with impeachment removed from the table, the subpoenas have no teeth.
We are in completely uncharted waters. The White House has reduced the Congress to a debate club or a gang of court jesters, and Congress has gone along with the complete removal of its power.
But do Republicans want the power to subpoena the Obama administration? Do Democrats want the power to subpoena the McCain administration? Do any congress members with decency that reaches outside a party want the power to hold any future administration in check?