If you want to know what the White House's defense against contempt charges, subpoenas or any other attack on their beloved doctrine of executive pre-eminence, look no further than Captain's Quarters blog today.
"Captain" Ed was asked by the White House to put together a group of rightwing bloggers who were loyal enough to have a phone conference with an anonymous White House official as he set out the Bush lines of defense.
Ed writes that the White House line will be:
The White House feels that this is just an attempt to embarrass the administration. In fact, Congress has no power to compel prosecution of such a contempt charge from federal prosecutors -- which Pat Leahy confirmed in 1999, in a similar situation during the Clinton administration. It is "of a piece with other actions we have seen," including the subpoena for Karl Rove, which he will not honor.So Rove won't answer his subpoena - what a surprise, although it's nice of the Bush official to confirm it.
...* What about the call for a special counsel on Alberto Gonzales? -- The law no longer exists for an independent prosecutor, and the "special counsel" is accountable to ... Alberto Gonzales. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but then again, neither does much of what Congress has tried in this probe, either.
* How do you assess the risks for the executive in this case? SCOTUS has hinted that executive privilege is not unlimited, and that allegations of criminal activity could overcome it -- There has been no evidence of criminality in this probe, so they don't consider it to be very risky at all. The question the court would address will be whether the President properly applied executive privilege, not so much on content but more on process. Most of these areas have not been litigated to any degree -- and that may be why Congress has gone through the criminal process instead.
* Any concern that this is a prelude to impeachment, gathering material for a new effort to remove Bush? -- The Speaker has ruled that out, and the senior official hopes they see the futility of that path. However, this Congress has gone out of their way in breaking precedent in this probe, so no one really knows.
* Congressional oversight; why can they exercise oversight over agencies but not the White House, and what does that have to do with the concept of the "unitary executive"? -- The difference is that the President cannot be subpoenaed, and neither can his advisors, who do not require Congressional confirmation to serve. The President has the power to order them to keep silent about their advisory activities.
My analysis: The White House seems convinced that these efforts by Congress will go nowhere. The path of criminal prosecution is closed to them without consent of the White House, which will certainly not be forthcoming. They so far have not chosen to file a lawsuit in order to gain Supreme Court mediation, which the White House believes they will lose in any case. Their analysis is that the Democrats have gotten so frustrated with their inability to find anything criminal in the firings that they want to offer a futile, asinine denouement that will allow them to retreat, eventually.
Other than that bit of new news, it's all pretty much as expected, although following Gonzales perjury yesterday there's now clear-cut evidence of criminality - as if multiple examples of probable Hatch Axt violations weren't enough.
Surely, Ed and the other bloggers on this call know who they were talking to - a "senior official" - and agreed to keep the name a secret. Why? I'm mystified, given that all of this has always been the administration's line. I can only imagine that it's yet another example of the Bush culture's compulsive secrecy. There's no obvious reason for anonymity here.
Come on, Ed, name that official.