Oversight vs. Executive Privilege

Much is made these days in the Congress of the Congress's oversight responsibilities, especially regarding its oversight of the executive branch. Indeed, the main occupation – and certain preoccupation – in the various Senate and House committees seem to be issuing threats and subpoenas (or threat of subpoenas) to various members of the administration, especially those in the executive branch, including the Justice Department. The president often advances the "executive privilege" reason for not having members of his organization appear before the committees, and seems perfectly willing for the matter to go to the courts.

Heading the list of committee chairmen with respect to jerking in members of the administration for a bit of grueling "testimony" is Senator "Leaky" Leahy, head honcho of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Over in the House, the chief investigator seems to be Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a strange title that seems to indicate that the government is in constant need of reform. Leahy has just had "executive privilege" thrown in his face by former White House aide Sara Taylor, and Waxman has her scheduled for a dose of the same later this month. Taylor chose to respond to either a request or subpoena and submit to Leahy's questioning, structured to either get her to divulge privileged information which she had been directed not to make available, or trick her into committing perjury.

The Congress has done virtually nothing since becoming controlled by the democrats in January, who seem unable to decide what to do about anything, except argue about the war against terrorism, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Podunk Junction. The democrat solons can't even agree with each other. The recent all-nighter, complete with dormitories, was the penultimate pajama party, since everyone knew it was just a game. It represented the height of silliness, since the hard-working solons should not expect to sleep a wink when they consider the nation's business so grave as to require around-the-clock legislating. The republicans would have been well-served to have just slept-in at home and showed up for the morning vote, the nature of which was known before the pillow-throwing began.

The oversight thing seems to be a red herring anyway. The powers of Congress are spelled out in Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution. Oversight of the executive branch is not listed among those powers. The powers of the president are listed in Article II, and oversight of the Congress is not listed among them, although the president has the power to convene and dismiss Congress "on extraordinary Occasions." It would appear that the founders did not mean for either branch to put the arm on the other, but if they did, the nod would go to the president, not those characters trying at the present time to hang somebody, preferably Rove or Gonzales, but, absent that possibility, at least the custodian of the White House toilets.

This is the beginning of Section 1 of Article III of the Constitution: "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." This is part of Section 2 of Article III of the Constitution: "The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States… ." So…if Congress or any member of same has a grievance with the president/executive branch, it should be handled in the courts, and vice versa.

The alternative, of course, lies in the impeachment process, spelled out in Article I, Section 3. If Senator Leahy, for instance, can prevail upon House Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues to successfully pass a president-impeachment resolution (only a simple majority-vote needed) out of the House (as the House republicans did concerning Bill Clinton in 1998), he can then attempt to get 67 Senators to vote for conviction, which can only amount to removal from office. Even though Slick Willie was guilty of perjury, he was never indicted for same after he left office, so he walked.

Both Leahy and ranking committee member Arlen Specter routinely express often that they've been prosecutors…easy to believe in this last instance with Taylor. The prosecutor goes after the little fish, hoping to intimidate or gather information with which to leverage the little fish into their respective palms. Leahy couldn't nail Gonzales or Rove, so he went after Taylor and Harriet Miers, former White House counsel. Neither ladies is now in government, and Miers essentially told Leahy to take a hike. The reason: executive privilege, i.e., the insistence that Congress has no authority to investigate the other branches of government. Otherwise, the separation of powers would not be extant.

This seems simple enough – okay, too simple – maybe there's been a law passed that indicates otherwise. If not and Congress does not cease and desist in its silliness, the president should inform his staff to immediately exert its oversight of the Congress and start sending out subpoenas, perhaps starting with Senate Majority Leader Reid, on the grounds of treasonous speech – subversive activity – regarding the Iraq War. That would be a hoot – Reid and 15 lawyers appearing before Bush and Cheney!