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White House set to defy subpoenas this week. Congress set to... ?

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Raw Story reports:

An attorney for Sara Taylor, a former top aide to White House adviser Karl Rove, notified the Senate that she was unlikely to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 11.

At the same time, former Counsel to President George W. Bush Harriet Miers told RAW STORY she did not know if she would appear before the House Judiciary Committee July 12.

An attorney for Taylor informed the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the White House sought to block her testimony.

"Ms. Taylor expects to receive a letter from Mr. Fielding on behalf of the President directing her not to comply with the Senate's subpoena," wrote W. Neil Eggleston, counsel to Taylor, in a Saturday letter to Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA).

This is it. This is where we find out whether we have "subpoena power" or not.

Or at least, it could be. There's always the possibility of a negotiated settlement that leaves the question unresolved. Says Chairman Leahy:

I hope the White House stops this stonewalling and accepts my offer to negotiate a workable solution to the Committee’s oversight requests, as so many previous White Houses have done throughout history.

On the other hand, Taylor's attorney appears to have a workable idea:

"In our view, it is unfair to Ms. Taylor that this constitutional struggle might be played out with her as the object of an unseemly tug of war," he wrote in the Saturday letter. "If the executive and legislative branches of government are unable to reach an agreement, we urge the Senate not to use Ms. Taylor as the focus of the constitutional struggle...the White House, not Ms. Taylor, controls the assertion of executive privilege. If there has to be a clash, we urge the Senate to direct its sanction against the White House, not against a former staffer."

I'll add this refresher on what typically happens when subpoenas are defied: The house that issued the subpoenas can vote to hold non-compliant subpoena targets in contempt of Congress, but those charges are prosecuted only at the discretion of... the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Imagine that. In the middle of an investigation of how it came to be that the US Attorneys were prosecuting political enemies and coddling political friends, it's up to the US Attorneys to decide whether or not to prosecute their political friends for refusing to answer questions about the scheme that started the investigation in the first place.

Sounds fair.

But has the US Attorney ever done that before? Declined to prosecute a political friend on orders from the White House? Absolutely. The case was that of Reagan administration EPA chief Anne Gorsuch Burford in 1982.

And who was the White House counsel who ran the strategy? Why, it was Fred Fielding himself:

In 1982, during current White House Counsel Fred Fielding’s first stint in the position, the U.S. attorney declined to bring a contempt charge against a Reagan administration official, instead seeking an injunction against the House.

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David Waldman is a Contributing Editor blogging as Kagro X at, the largest and most visited political blog in the world. A non-practicing attorney, a former Capitol Hill aide, his online work includes a comprehensive study of the Senate's "nuclear option," written at (more...)
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