Go get her, Mr. Livingood: arresting Rice for contempt
Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she will defy a Congressional Subpoena issued by a House Committee investigating the administrations pre-war claims about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Now, defying such a subpoena is illegal, and she could be prosecuted for that. But who would be in charge of prosecuting such a case? U.S. Attorneys. Yes, the same U.S. Attorneys who have been purged to ensure political loyalty to the Bush administration. The person defying the subpoena (Rice) and the people in charge of enforcing it (U.S. Attorneys) are pawns of the same bunch of wannabe authoritarians. So Congress and the American people are S.O.L., right?
Wrong! It turns out that each chamber of Congress has its own Sergeant-at-Arms, who under some seldom-used provisions actually has the legal power to go out and enforce Congress' rules. This Slate article explains it all:
(HT: Sullivan) The guy in the photo above is Wilson Livingood, Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives. He has the authoritah. If Rice, Rove, or any other Bush administration wants to defy Waxman's House Committee investigation, I say let's have Mr. Livingood put that Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice degree to work and arrest them for contempt of Congress. That would certainly re-establish Congress' oversight role in a dramatic fashion, and it would let the little embunkered Dauphin (Bush) know that "L'état, ce n'est pas toi."
Federal law can allow the executive to punish disobedience to Congress, but it cannot take away Congress' own punishment powers. Back in 1833, Justice Joseph Story said those powers were utterly necessary "for either house to perform its constitutional functions," a conclusion also reached by the Supreme Court as a whole in 1821. Once a house of Congress finds someone in contempt, it can order its sergeant to go after him. It's really that simple.
And that's as it should be: As the House of Commons understood when it nabbed Ferrers on its own, and as Congress understood when it scooped up Sam Houston, accepting help from the executive means subordination to the executive. The legislature can least afford this when it is the executive that is under investigation. The sergeants of the houses of Congress already have all the power they need. Rove, Rice, Miers—Congress, go get 'em!