WASHINGTON (CN) – President Bush’s senior advisers cannot ignore subpoenas to testify before the House Judiciary Committee as part of the investigation of the forced resignation of nine federal prosecutors in 2006, a federal judge ruled. “The executive’s current claim of absolute immunity from compelled Congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law,” U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote.
It is unclear how the ruling, involving former White House counsel Harriet Miers, will affect the cases of Karl Rove and other Bush officials who refuse to testify before Congress.
Congress asked the court to order Meirs to testify before the Judiciary Committee, and require the current White House chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, to produce a privilege log in response to a Congressional subpoena. Miers and Bolten moved to dismiss, asserting that the principles of separation of powers and executive privilege shield them from having to bend to Congress’ demands.
Bates said they raised the unprecedented notion that Meirs is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony, an argument he rejected.
“The Supreme Court has reserved absolute immunity for very narrow circumstances,” he wrote, “involving the President’s personal exposure to suits for money damages based on his official conduct or concerning matters of national security or foreign affairs.”
The judge emphasized that his opinion, though lengthy, is “very limited” and only rejects the claim that presidential aides are absolutely immune from having to answer to congressional process.
Bates said Meirs must testify before Congress, invoking executive privilege where appropriate.
“And as the Supreme Court has directed, the judiciary remains the ultimate arbiter of an executive privilege claim, since it is the duty of the courts to declare what the law is.”
Finally, turning to the requested documents, Bates stopped of requiring Bolten to produce a full privilege log. “Instead, the Executive should produce a more detailed list and description of the nature and scope of the documents it seeks to withhold on the basis of executive privilege sufficient to enable resolution of any privilege claims,” he wrote.