Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, May 11, 2007

  Does Congress matter any longer?

The answer is "no", according to the Bush administration. They've been doing their best to school Congress in this simple fact—that it can't touch Bush & Co. It's a lesson that Democrats have been slow to learn.

Take for example the notorious appearance of Alberto Gonzales before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. As Dahlia Lithwick notes, the Attorney General made not the slightest effort this time around to explain how and why the eight (or more) US Attorneys got fired. He didn't try to justify himself or the administration. Instead, he just giggled at House Democrats and repeated nonsensical refrains. It was an act of defiance.

Gonzales was displaying open contempt for Congress. He wanted them to know that they don't matter.

Gonzales revealed little in the daylong testimony, as Democrats grew increasingly upset with his failure to offer specifics about who decided whom to fire and why.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., accused Gonzales of lying when he couldn't be pinned down on who decided to add Iglesias to the list in the eleventh hour. "Are you the attorney general?" he asked. "Do you run the Department of Justice? You know who put him on the list, but you won't tell us."


Republicans seem to like it that way.

"I'm going to ask you the basis question, which is, if you continue to serve for 20 more months at the pleasure of the president, which I believe you will, will you, in fact, not be gun shy as a result of what happens here today?" - Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

"Contrary to being gun shy, this process is somewhat liberating in terms of going forward." - Gonzales.

Contempt for Congress, without having to face all those pesky charges, must of course be liberating and just a little amusing too.

Bush & Co. have been hammering the point home recently. For example, yesterday we learned from Murray Waas about some further documents that the White House has withheld from Congress. These emails would demonstrate that Rove played a central role in the firing of those US Attorneys.

Several of the e-mails that the Bush administration is withholding from Congress, as well as papers from the White House counsel's office describing other withheld documents, were made available to National Journal by a senior executive branch official, who said that the administration has inappropriately kept many of them from Congress.

The senior official said that Gonzales, in preparing for testimony before Congress, has personally reviewed the withheld records and has a responsibility to make public any information he has about efforts by his former chief of staff, other department aides, and White House officials to conceal Rove's role..."If there was an effort within Justice and the White House to mislead Congress, it is his duty to disclose that to Congress."

They would have a responsibility to make them public, along with all the other documents they've been withholding—if Congress actually mattered.

Separately, six senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee...complained to Gonzales last week that they had not been told anything about a confidential order he signed in March 2006, which delegated the authority to hire and fire many of the department's most senior political appointees to Sampson and to Monica Goodling...

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the [Judiciary] committee, said he was infuriated that he knew nothing of the existence of the order until it was disclosed by National Journal. "Pardon me if I raise my voice," Specter said.

The Senator will indeed be pardoned, once he permits himself to pipe down.

The intelligence agencies also believe that Congress doesn't matter. Steve Aftergood reports:

U.S. intelligence recently undertook a "significant" covert action without notifying Congress, as required by law, the House Intelligence Committee disclosed in a new report on the 2008 intelligence authorization bill.

"The Committee was dismayed at a recent incident wherein the Intelligence Community failed to inform the Congress of a significant covert action activity. This failure to notify Congress constitutes a violation of the National Security Act of 1947."

With a Gonzales-like chuckle, the CIA assured the Committee that the failure to notify them was entirely accidental.

The [2008 authorization] bill does not include changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act sought by the Administration.

"Before the Committee will support any change to existing law, it is essential that the President provide some measure of assurance that were he to sign a bill modifying FISA into law, he would agree to be bound by it," the [House Intelligence Committee] report stated.

The paradox here, you see, is that the Congress has never acknowledged the President's right to revoke legislation through signing statements. Thus it refuses to pass new laws handing over the power demanded by Bush, until he agrees to abide by them.

Not to be outdone, the military is also stepping up its challenges to the authority of Congress. Today we learn that the Pentagon is refusing to permit military officials to testify before Congress.

The Pentagon has placed unprecedented restrictions on who can testify before Congress, reserving the right to bar lower-ranking officers, enlisted soldiers, and career bureaucrats from appearing before oversight committees or having their remarks transcribed, according to Defense Department documents.

Robert L. Wilkie , a former Bush administration national security official who left the White House to become assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs last year, has outlined a half-dozen guidelines that prohibit most officers below the rank of colonel from appearing in hearings, restricting testimony to high-ranking officers and civilians appointed by President Bush.

The guidelines, described in an April 19 memo to the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, adds that all field-level officers and enlisted personnel must be "deemed appropriate" by the Department of Defense before they can participate in personal briefings for members of Congress or their staffs; in addition, according to the memo, the proceedings must not be recorded...

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress see the move as a blatant attempt to bog down investigations of the war. But veterans of the legislative process -- who say they have never heard of such guidelines before -- maintain that the Pentagon has no authority to set such ground rules...

Veterans of Capitol Hill scoffed at the Pentagon's restrictions on who can talk to lawmakers. "If I was the staff director I would say why the hell should I care who you want to appear before my committee," said Winslow Wheeler , who worked for three Republican senators and one Democrat in a 30-year career as a top congressional aide. He called Wilkie's memo "embarrassing."

Once again, members of Congress are missing the point. Of course it's embarrassing. When will Congress face up to the fact that the AUMF was a declaration of permanent war—against the privileges of the pre-eminent and original Branch of government?

There's a new Branch in town, and he's in charge now.

crossposted from Unbossed

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