Harriet E. Miers

I have updated the statement of facts alleging various violations by Harriet E. Miers of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct with the recent Memorandum Opinion in COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES v. HARRIET MIERS, et al., Civil Action No. 08-0409 (JDB). in which United States District Judge John D. Bates confirms conduct of Ms. Miers that calls into question her fitness to practice law.

Personal Information:

  • Name: Miers, Harriet E.
  • Bar: Texas
  • ID No: 00000067
  • Status: Active

Grievance Information: Texas


Willful Failure to Appear pursuant to a Lawful United States House Judiciary Committee Subpoena

On June 13, 2007, Rep. John Conyers, Jr., and Sen Patrick Leahy, as Chairmen of the United States House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary, respectively, issued multiple subpoenas to former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to produce certain requested documents and to appear for testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law on July 12, 2007. See Conyers: Are Subpoenas Optional or Not?, Paul Kiel, TPMMuckraker.com, July 12, 2007; See also page 39, Memorandum to the Members of the Committee on the Judiciary from Rep. John C. Conyers, Jr., Chairman, dated July 24, 2007. On July 9, 2007, George Manning, attorney for Ms. Miers, informed the House Committee that Ms. Miers would “comply with the White House ‘direction[]’ by current White House Counsel Fred Fielding who “‘directed’ Ms. Miers not to provide testimony to the Committee. Id. at page 41. Chairman Conyers and Subcommittee Chair Linda Sanchez wrote to Mr. Manning stating “that it was incumbent on Ms. Miers to appear so that the Subcommittee could consider her claims of privilege concerning specific documents or in response to particular questions posed as the hearing. Id. Ms. Miers failed to appear before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on July 12, 2007. Id. at page 42. After failing to appear, and in response to an inquiry by Chairman Conyers, “Mr. Manning informed Chairmen Conyers on July 17, 2007, that his client intended to remain noncom pliant with the subpoena. Id . In the Memorandum, Chairman Conyers states:

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.”

As a result of her refusal to appear before the Subcommittee pursuant to a lawful subpoena, the House Judiciary Committee approved a contempt of Congress citation against Ms. Miers. House Democrats Approve Contempt of Congress Citations Wednesday Against 2 Presidential Aides, Laurie Kellman, AP News, July 25, 2007. See also House Committee Approves Contempt Citation, Paul Kiel, TPMMuckraker.com, July 25, 2007. Ms. Miers failure to appear pursuant to subpoena and her receipt of a contempt of Congress citation violate her ethical obligations under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct .

Chairman Conyers’ position has been upheld by United States District Judge John D. Bates in COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES v. HARRIET MIERS, et al., Civil Action No. 08-0409 (JDB). In his Memorandum Opinion, Judge Bates introduced the position taken by Ms.Miers as unprecedented, is without any support in the case law and 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.

In footnote 1 of his Opinion, Judge Bates’ states that “The Court will refer to the defendants in this action, and to the executive branch and the current administration generally, as “the Executive.” Id. at p. 2. Accordingly, each and every reference to the Executive is a reference to, inter alia, Mr. Miers.

Because Ms. Miers presented no legitimate claim for absolute immunity, Judge Bates rules 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.

In his analysis, Judge Bates provided an exhaustive review of the facts and then summarized the underlying facts in this matter:

The undisputed factual record, then, establishes the following. Notwithstanding a prolonged period of negotiation, [Footnote] 7[,] the parties reached a self-declared impasse with respect to the document production and testimony at issue here. Faced with that reality, the full House of Representatives voted to hold Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten in contempt of Congress and certified the Contempt Report to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to pursue criminal enforcement of the contempt citations. The Attorney General then directed the U.S. Attorney not to proceed against Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten. The Committee, then, filed this suit seeking civil enforcement of its subpoena authority by way of declaratory and injunctive relief.

[Footnote] 7 Mr. Fielding’s final letter to Chairman Conyers reveals that the Chairmen had “written ‘on eight previous occasions,’ three of which letters contain or incorporate specific proposals involving terms for a possible agreement.” See Pl.’s Mot. Ex. 34.

Id. at pp. 16-17.

Judge Bates also addresses Ms. Miers’ claim of absolute immunity, which was 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 continues 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.

Since Ms. Miers’ failure to appear pursuant to validly issued subpoenas is not supported by any colorable basis in law, her failure to appear is in violation of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. Accordingly, Ms. Miers’ conduct calls into question her fitness to practice law.

Supporting Links:

Conyers: Are Subpoenas Optional or Not?, Paul Kiel, TPMMuckraker.com, July 12, 2007

Memorandum to the Members of the Committee on the Judiciary regarding Full Committee Consideration of Report on the Refusal of Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten to Comply with Subpoenas By the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John C. Conyers, Jr., Chairman, July 24, 2007

House Democrats Approve Contempt of Congress Citations Wednesday Against 2 Presidential Aides, Laurie Kellman, AP News, July 25, 2007

House Committee Approves Contempt Citation, Paul Kiel, TPMMuckraker.com, July 25, 2007

Rules Violated:

Failure to Report Unlawful and Unethical Conduct of Texas Attorney Alberto Gonzales

Beginning in January 2001, Ms. Miers served as Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary for President George W. Bush. In 2003, she was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. In November 2004, President Bush appointed her to the post of White House Counsel, the chief legal adviser for the Office of the President, succeeding Alberto Gonzales who had held that position during President Bush’s first term and who left that position to become Attorney General of the United States in February 2005.

In each of these positions, Ms. Miers worked closely with Mr. Gonzales, who, like Ms. Miers, is also a member of the Texas Bar. In fulfilling her duties to the President, or subsequent to her employment by the President, Ms. Miers acquired the requisite knowledge of conduct engaged in by Mr. Gonzales that raised, or should have raised, a substantial question as to Mr. Gonzales’ honesty, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer. However, Ms. Miers failed to inform the appropriate disciplinary authority as required by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, Ms. Miers became aware of the following violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct by Mr. Gonzales:

  • His March 2004 attempt, as then-White House Counsel, to coerce the execution of legal documents by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft while Mr. Ashcroft was in intensive care.
  • His false statements to Congress that there was no dissent in the Department of Justice regarding the intelligence program known as the terrorist surveillance program.
  • His attempt to improperly influence Monica Goodling to provide false statements to Congress.
  • His complicity in the violations of the Presidential Records Act by Karl Rove, J. Scott Jennings, Susan Ralston and other White House officials. In a deposition provided on May 10, 2007, Susan Ralston, Karl Rove’s former executive assistant, testified that she and Mr. Rove searched for e-mails on his political accounts in response to requests from two separate investigations. Ms. Ralston stated that in 2001, Mr. Rove was asked to search his political computer in response to a request relating to an investigation involving Enron. She testified that the White House Counsel’s office would have known about these searches “because all of the documents that we collected were then turned over to the White House Counsel’s office.” In addition, Ms. Ralston testified that Mr. Rove searched his RNC e-mail account in response to several subpoenas from Patrick Fitzgerald during the investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. She testified that the White House Counsel’s office also knew about these searches and received copies of the search results.
  • His false statements to Congress regarding abuses of the USA Patriot Act by the FBI. In his testimony to the Senate, Mr. Gonzales testified that the FBI had not abused its use of national security letters. However, Mr. Gonzales had, in fact, received at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • His conflict of interest advising President Bush to shut down a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration’s warrantless domestic eavesdropping program even though Mr. Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation.
  • His false statements to Congress regarding his intentions to appoint US Attorneys pursuant to the USA Patriot Act.
  • His false statements to Congress regarding the stated reasons for firing nine (9) US Attorneys even though Ms. Miers was intimately involved in the firing of the US Attorneys and knew his statements were false.

Supporting Links:

See Alberto Gonzales , Grievance Project, October 3, 2007.

Rules Violated:

Text and comments of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct violated by Ms. Miers