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Pelosi on Contempt: 'Oversight Is an Institutional Obligation to Ensure Against Abuse of Power'

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor today on the contempt of Congress citations against former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.  The House voted 223 to 32 this afternoon to hold Miers and Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a legally binding subpoena.  Below are the Speaker's remarks:

'I rise today in sadness, not in confrontation.  This is not a conflict that the Congress has sought.  In fact, as the distinguished chairman of the Judiciary Committee has indicated, the committee has repeatedly sought to avoid confrontation, repeatedly making requests that have been ignored or rejected by the White House on completely unacceptable terms.   

'The Judiciary Committee, and indeed the Congress, is clearly entitled to this information - it involves neither national security information nor communications with the President; the President has no grounds to assert executive privilege. 

'On the other hand, Congress has the responsibility of oversight of the executive branch.  I know that Members on both sides of the aisle take that responsibility seriously. 

'Oversight is an institutional obligation to ensure against abuse of power, in this case the politicization of the Department of Justice.  Subpoena authority is a vital tool for that oversight. 

'Today we seek to require the Department of Justice to bring contempt motions against Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten.  When our resolution passes, we hope that the Administration will realize that this House of Representatives, this Congress, is serious about our constitutional role of oversight and will reach a settlement with us over the documents and testimony at issue.  I still hold out the hope that they will cooperate. 

'But if the Administration fails to do so, and if it orders the Department of Justice not to file contempt proceedings, we will then, through this resolution, have the power ourselves to go to the federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.  

'The resolution before us today should not be a partisan issue.  This isn't about Democrats or Republicans.  Former Congressman Mickey Edwards, who once served in the House Republican leadership, has said that the enforcement of the subpoenas in the U.S. Attorney matter is about 'defending Congress - not a Democratic or Republican Congress but the peoples' Congress - as a separate, independent and completely equal branch of government.'

'The subject of the Judiciary Committee's investigation involves serious and credible allegations that federal law enforcement was politicized.  Political manipulation of law enforcement undermines public confidence in our criminal justice system.  Congress must find out what happened, not just in terms of those who were fired, but also whether improper criteria was used to retain the remaining U.S. Attorneys. 

'We must have the information in order to protect against political manipulation of law enforcement, and it must be provided on terms consistent with our Constitutional obligations.  The so-called White House offer refused to permit even a transcript of any interviews and to permit questions on discussions, and required the Committee to promise in advance not to seek further information. 

'This is beyond arrogance; this is hubris taken to the ultimate degree.  As former Congressman Edwards said, 'No Congress, indeed no lawyer, would ever agree to such an outrageous demand.'

'Madam Speaker, we must continue in our efforts to restore our nation's fundamental system of checks and balances.  This Congress and future Congresses must have the ability to conduct meaningful oversight.  It is the hallmark of our constitutional democracy that has served us well for more than two centuries. 

'Thank you again, Chairman Conyers for your leadership; Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Chairwoman of the Subcommittee that dealt with this issue; Chairwoman Louise Slaughter for the important work of the Rules Committee in all of this.  To the new Members of Congress on this issue of Article 1, led by John Yarmuth, Article 1 protects the prerogatives of the Constitution of the Congress of the United States. I thank our new Members for their leadership on honoring their oath of office.  And Brad Miller, an expert on this subject in the Congress has been a tremendous resource to us as well.

'Let us uphold our oath of office by voting for this resolution, my colleagues.   Let us restore the rule of law.  Let us act to protect and defend our Constitution by ensuring appropriate Congressional oversight in all areas essential to the well-being of the American people.   

'I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.'