Harriet Miers’ testimony in US Attorney firings spotlights again why she is unfit to practice law.


It took two (2) years and a judicial scolding by United States District Judge John D. Bates, but Harriet Miers’ has finally testified in the U.S. Attorney firing investigations:

In a low-key session on Capitol Hill, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers was deposed Monday by House Judiciary Committee staffers probing the alleged politicization of the Bush Justice Department.

Miers testified, behind closed doors, after months of wrangling between Congress and former members of the Bush administration.

But just as the thief is not absolved from the crime of theft even if he returns the stolen property, Harriet Miers is not absolved of her prior unethical conduct just because she has now testified.  To the contrary, her testimony this week serves to again expose her unethical conduct which demonstrates that she is unfit to practice law.

These excerpts from the Memorandum to the Members of the Committee on the Judiciary from Rep. John C. Conyers, Jr., Chairman, dated July 24, 2007, are just as true today as they were when I first wrote about Harriet Miers back in October of 2007:

Even more extraordinary than the executive privilege claims in this matter is the assertion that Ms. Miers, a former White House official not currently employed by the federal government, is absolutely immune from even appearing before the Subcommittee as directed by subpoena. The Supreme Court has specifically held that even a President, while serving in that capacity, can be subpoena by a court and can be required to participate in a civil lawsuit for damages by a private party. [FN 281] The Court’s holding in Jones flies in the face of the claim that a former White House official is somehow immune from even appearing in response to a Congressional subpoena. As with Sara Taylor, who received a subpoena similar to Ms. Miers’ but chose to appear and answer some questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee, no one can doubt that Ms. Miers would have been asked some questions that would not have fallen within even the broadest assertion of executive privilege, but Ms. Miers simply refused to attend her hearing altogether. Id.

[…]

[T]here is an additional reason that Ms. Miers’ claims concerning executive privilege were and should be rejected. When a private party like Ms. Miers is subject to a subpoena, it is improper for the subpoenaed person simply to refuse to … testify based on an assertion of privilege by a third party, in this case, the White House. … To the extent that the White House objected to the subpoena to Ms. Miers as a private citizen, therefore, its proper recourse – which would have been more than adequate to protect its own asserted rights – would have been to seek a court order, rather than unilaterally “directing” Ms. Miers to disobey a lawful subpoena herself. Id. at page 46.

[…]

[M]s. Miers was not being misled by a government entity into thinking she was acting lawfully, but instead she chose, with full knowledge of the possible consequences, to follow the White House’s flawed “directive.” As the entity which issued the subpoena to Ms. Miers, only the Committee was in a position to give her “reasonable reliance” that she could lawfully refuse to comply, but in fact the Committee did precisely the opposite and made clear that she was required to obey her subpoena. Id. at page 48. (emphasis in original)

[…]

As explained in the July 12 and July 19 rulings upheld by the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, the refusal … of Ms. Miers to testify or even appear pursuant to subpoena [has] no proper legal basis. Id. at page 52. FN 281 See Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 703-06 (1997). As the Court noted in United States v. Bryan, 339 U.S. 323-331 (1950), “persons summoned as witnesses have certain minimum duties and obligations which as necessary concessions to the public interest in the orderly operation of legislative and judicial machinery. …We have often iterated the importance of this public duty, which every person within the jurisdiction of the Government is bound to perform when properly summoned.”

In the ensuing litigation, United States District Judge John D. Bates was was also not impressed with Harriet Miers’ excuses for defying lawful, Congressional subpoenas.  [I have adapted the following discussion of Judge Bates’ Opinion from this post I wrote in July of 2008.]  In this Memorandum Opinion issued in COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES v. HARRIET MIERS, et al., Civil Action No. 08-0409 (JDB), Judge Bates introduced Ms. Miers’ legal position by stating that it was unprecedented, was without any support in the case law and was fallacious:

Indeed, the aspect of this lawsuit that is unprecedented is the notion that Ms. Miers is absolutely immune from compelled congressional process. The Supreme Court has reserved absolute immunity for very narrow circumstances, 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 Executive’s current claim of absolute immunity from compelled congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law. The fallacy of that claim was presaged in United States v. Nixon itself (id. at 706):

neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of highlevel communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial [or congressional] process under all circumstances.

Id. at p. 3.

Because Ms. Miers presented no legitimate claim for absolute immunity, Judge Bates ruled that Ms. Miers must, in fact, appear pursuant to the validly issued subpoenas of the United States House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary:

Clear precedent and persuasive policy reasons confirm that the Executive cannot be the judge of its own privilege and hence Ms. Miers is not entitled to absolute immunity from compelled congressional process. Ms. Miers is not excused from compliance with the Committee’s subpoena by virtue of a claim of executive privilege that may ultimately be  made.

Instead, she must appear before the Committee to provide testimony, and invoke executive privilege where appropriate. [Footnote] 38 [is not included herein] 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. See United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. at 703-05; see also Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) at 177.

Id. at p. 91.

Judge Bates also addressed Ms. Miers’ claim of absolute immunity, which provided the basis for her refusal to even appear before the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary:

The Executive maintains that absolute immunity shields Ms. Miers from compelled testimony before Congress. Although the exact reach of this proposed doctrine is not clear, the Executive insists that it applies only to “a very small cadre of senior advisors.” See Tr. at 96. The argument starts with the assertion that the President himself is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony. There is no case that stands for that exact proposition, but the Executive maintains that the conclusion flows logically from Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982), where the Supreme Court held that the President “is entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts.” Id. at 749. “Any such [congressional] power of compulsion over the President,” the Executive asserts, “would obviously threaten his independence and autonomy from Congress in violation of separation of powers principles.” See Defs.’ Reply at 40. The Executive then contends that “[those] same principles apply just as clearly to the President’s closest advisers.” Id. Because senior White House advisers “have no operational authority over government agencies . . . [t]heir sole function is to advise and assist the President in the exercise of his duties.” Id. at 41. Therefore, they must be regarded as the President’s “alter ego.” In a similar context, the Supreme Court has extended Speech or Debate Clause immunity to legislative aides who work closely with Members of Congress. See Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 616-17 (1972). Accordingly, forcing close presidential advisors to testify before Congress would be tantamount to compelling the President himself to do so, a plainly untenable result in the Executive’s view. Indeed, as the Executive would have it, “[w]ere the President’s closest advisers subject to compelled testimony there would be no end to the demands that effectively could be placed upon the President himself.” See Defs.’ Reply at 43.

Unfortunately for the Executive, this line of argument has been virtually foreclosed by the Supreme Court. In Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982), the plaintiff sued “senior White House aides” for civil damages arising out of the defendants’ official actions. Id. at 802. The defendants argued that they were “entitled to a blanket protection of absolute immunity as an incident of their offices as Presidential aides.” Id. at 808. The Supreme Court rejected that
position. Notwithstanding the absolute immunity extended to legislators, judges, prosecutors, and the President himself, the Court emphasized that “[f]or executive officials in general, however, our cases make plain that qualified immunity represents the norm.” Id. at 807. Although there can be no doubt regarding “the importance to the President of loyal and efficient subordinates in executing his duties of office, . . . these factors, alone, [are] insufficient to justify absolute immunity.” Id. at 808-09 (discussing Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478 (1978)).

Id. at pp. 79-80.

Judge Bates continued to decimate Ms. Miers’ claim of absolute immunity:

There is nothing left to the Executive’s primary argument in light of Harlow. This case, of course, does not involve national security or foreign policy, and the Executive does not invoke that mantra. The derivative, “alter ego” immunity that the Executive requests here due to Ms. Miers’s and Mr. Bolten’s close proximity to and association with the President has been explicitly and definitively rejected, and there is no basis for reaching a different conclusion here. Indeed, the Executive asks this Court to recognize precisely the type of blanket derivative absolute immunity that the Supreme Court declined to acknowledge in Harlow.

Id. at pp. 81-82.

Judge Bates also expressly pointed out that there is NO judicial precedent for Ms. Miers’ claims:

Thus, it would hardly be unprecedented for Ms. Miers to appear before Congress to testify and assert executive privilege where appropriate. Still, it is noteworthy that in an environment where there is no judicial support whatsoever for the Executive’s claim of absolute immunity, the historical record also does not reflect the wholesale compulsion by Congress of testimony from senior presidential advisors that the Executive fears. [Emphasis in original.]

Id. at pp. 83-84.

And that Ms. Miers’ claims are based solely on two (2) legal opinions issued by the Executive Branch itself:

Tellingly, the only authority that the Executive can muster in support of its absolute immunity assertion are two OLC opinions authored by Attorney General Janet Reno and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury, respectively.

[…]

[T]he Court is not at all persuaded by the Reno and Bradbury opinions.

Id. at pp. 85-86.

As noted by both Chairman Conyers and Judge Bates, Ms. Miers’ failure to appear pursuant to validly issued subpoenas was not supported by any colorable basis in law.  Accordingly, her failure to appear is in violation of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct and her conduct calls into question her fitness to practice law.

H/t to Zachary Roth at TPMMuckraker for Miers Testifies in US Attorneys Probe — When Will Rove?

Crossposted at Oxdown Gazette.

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2 Responses

  1. To stop housing scams, we must continue investigating U.S. Attorneys firing scandal.

    • Housing scams, illegal prosecutions, torture, illegal surveillance….

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