Saturday, June 19, 2004

News: U.S. Senate de-facto threatens Ashcroft with subpoena (exclusive)

US Senator Feinstein recently wrote me an email, quoted below, in response to my concern about Ashcroft's behavior before the Senate. It contains news about the US Senate's intention to subpoena Attorney General Ashcroft, which would normally have made the mainstream US media, but has been lost in the stream of news coming out of the Middle East.

Recall my earlier post "Ashcroft de facto in contempt of Congress" (here) in which I pointed out that Ashcroft's demeanor towards the Senate on June 8th was highly unusual.

I urged my American readers to contact their congressional representatives and express support for Congress' constitutionally mandated authority to investigate the Administration and subpoena people and documents. In this time of war, it is especially important to let your representatives know (including your Republican representatives) that you continue to support their efforts to carry out their Constitutional duty to oversee the Administration's activities.

Here is the body of Senator Feinstein's email to me in its entirety (no doubt similar to emails received by other California voters that wrote to her on this issue):

Thank you for your letter on Attorney General John
Ashcroft's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on
June 8, 2004. I welcome the opportunity to respond.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has an important oversight
role for the Department of Justice. Under the Constitution, the
Attorney General cannot refuse to provide information the
Congress requests unless he claims executive privilege. I am
disappointed that Attorney General Ashcroft was not forthcoming
with the memos we requested and we intend to pursue this matter
by subpoena if necessary. Otherwise we cannot carry out our
mandated oversight responsibility.

Again, thank you for writing. I hope you will continue to
keep me informed on issues of importance to you. If you have any
further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my
Washington, D.C. staff at (###) ###-####.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

By "we intend to pursue this matter by subpoena if necessary" she most likely also includes the Republican members of the Senate. The request for the document, after all, was made by the Republican chair of the Senate committee.

It sounds like the Senate has basically given Ashcroft an ultimatum: turn over the documents within a reasonable time frame, claim executive privilege (which he so far has expressly refused to claim), or face a subpoena.

This is one of the many stories that normally would have received great coverage in the mainstream US media, but that has fallen through the cracks with all the (mostly bad) news coming out of the Middle East. In normal times, arrogantly defying a request for a document from the US Senate would be big news and usually political suicide for a senior Administration official. It is very unusual for the Senate to resort to the threat of a subpoena. (Administration officials are usually very deferential to Senate committee chairs, at least publically, as they know the Senate will usually get its way in the end anyway).

Earlier story: "Ashcroft de facto in contempt of Congress" (here)