Kimberly Strassel: The U.S. attorneys controversy is about politics, not the law

Roundup: Media's Take

A president removes a U.S. attorney, and Congress demands to see privileged files related to the firing. The president refuses, noting that "these suspensions are my executive acts," and "based upon considerations addressed to me alone." The Senate has a meltdown, arguing it has oversight authority over the removal of administration officials and threatens to censure the attorney general.

If this sounds familiar, it shouldn't, since it's the story of a long-forgotten battle that President Grover Cleveland fought with Congress in 1885. One reason it is long-forgotten is because nothing happened. The Senate was steamed that Cleveland wouldn't cough up the docs, but it also recognized there were limits on its power. It never did hold any officials in contempt, never did take any judicial action. Instead, it confirmed Cleveland's new choice for the U.S. attorney position.

What a difference 122 years makes. Democrats are conducting an insincere probe into President Bush's firing of U.S. attorneys, but these days they see no constitutional reason why the White House shouldn't cooperate in their partisan attack. In response to the administration's refusal to respond to subpoenas, the House Judiciary Committee this week voted to issue criminal contempt citations against Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

Chairman John Conyers is spinning the line that his party had no choice, but was forced into this by a recalcitrant president who is eviscerating Congress's oversight authority. If you believe that, Mr. Conyers also has a Capitol building to sell you. The contempt citations are, rather, an audacious break with history and Mr. Conyers has far more honorable options. The reason Democrats haven't pursued those more dignified routes is because this is about smearing the president, not proving a principle....

This is a constitutional issue, but you don't have to be Robert Bork to get your head around it. The Founders created three separate (but equal) branches of government. The Constitution gave each their own powers, while also supplying checks to prevent the branches from encroaching on each other.

Congress gave itself the right to issue criminal contempt citations long ago, and bully for it, but there's nothing in legal history to suggest that in this case it has the right to apply that power to the president or his subordinates. It'd be one thing if Mr. Conyers had proved beyond doubt that a crime had been committed. He hasn't. Instead, this is a straightforward battle between Mr. Bush's claim of executive privilege and Congress's claim of oversight. Both sides, in theory, have a legitimate case....

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    More Comments:

    Stephen Kislock - 8/10/2007

    Sex life???????????????????

    How many Millions of Dollars were spent to find and save the Stain on the Black Dress??????????????

    The Law of the Land is to be Blind and Equal. To Proscute a Democrat before an Election for a Suppossed wrong, Was and Is Political.

    It's the Department of Justice,Justice a term the Neo-Con's do not have any use for,only their Agenda............

    Power to the Few, Wealth to the Few, justice for the Few. America of the Few!!!!!!!!!!!!