Miers to Be a Silent Star at Hearing

Posted July 10, 2007 at 6:36pm

Former White House counsel and one-time Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers has agreed to appear at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on the firing of nine U.S. attorneys — but she hasn’t agreed to say anything.

The committee on Tuesday released a letter from Miers’ attorney, George Manning, pointing out that she has “no choice but to comply” with the White House decision to assert executive privilege over any testimony that would be responsive to the committee’s subpoena for her testimony. “Ms. Miers is thus subject to conflicting commands, with Congress demanding the production of information that the Counsel to the President has informed her she is prohibited from disclosing.”

Nevertheless, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, replied to Manning on Tuesday to “confirm, as you told the committee counsel yesterday, that your client Ms. Harriet Miers will appear to testify” before the subcommittee on Thursday. Democratic staff say that in essence, Miers will have to assert executive privilege on a question-by-question basis in response to the Members’ queries.

Miers’ appearance is likely to echo the appearance today of former White House Political Director Sara Taylor, who has been called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The White House also has asserted privilege over her testimony, arguing in both cases that Congress does not have jurisdiction over the firing of U.S. attorneys and advice to the president from his staff has always been protected by executive privilege.

In a July 7 letter, Taylor’s attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, pleaded with the committee and White House counsel Fred Fielding not to make his client “the object of an unseemly tug of war.” Eggleston pointed out that Taylor faces “two untenable choices” — defy the president of the United States or defy the committee and face a possible contempt of Congress charge.

The White House also has directed the Republican National Committee not to comply with the House Judiciary Committee’s request for copies of communications by White House officials using RNC e-mail accounts that dealt with the U.S. attorney firings.

In a July 9 letter to the RNC released by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, White House Special Counsel Emmet Flood said the e-mails in question are for the most part covered by the committee’s subpoena to the White House, with which Fielding had already stated the administration does not intend to comply.

Other e-mails that are not covered by the subpoena still “implicate Executive Branch interests” and “the White House directs the RNC not to disclose them to any other person,” Flood wrote.

There remains a smaller category of documents that are either public records or do not relate to the White House, and Flood said it is up to the RNC to determine how to handle those.

The House Judiciary Committee is likely to vote Thursday to formally subpoena the documents that the White House has told the RNC not to release, setting the stage for yet another legal battle between Congress and the White House.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee already has issued subpoenas for e-mails that were sent by White House officials using RNC accounts — particularly seeking examples of the use of government resources to forward political aims — but the White House has not thus far asserted control over documents that are responsive to that subpoena, a Republican source said Tuesday.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.