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US Congressional Panel Cites White House Official, Former Counsel for Contempt

The House Judiciary Committee has voted to recommend to the full House of Representatives that President Bush's chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, and his former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, be cited for contempt of Congress. The two have refused to comply with Congressional subpoenas for information and testimony on the controversial dismissal of several federal prosecutors. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee voted 22-17 along party lines to recommend the contempt citation to the full House of Representatives.

Majority Democrats have rejected the White House's assertion of executive privilege for refusing to supply documents and allow testimony by Miers before Congress.

Over seven months, House and Senate Democrats have investigated what they believe were improper political considerations in the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors and politicization of the Department of Justice.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, whose resignation Democrats and some Republicans have demanded over the attorneys issue and other matters, denies any wrongdoing, although he acknowledges mistakes were made.

Republicans accused Democrats of pursuing their investigations for political reasons, and employing double standards.

Republican Congressman Lamar Smith contrasts President Bush's use of executive privilege on three occasions with that of former Democratic President Bill Clinton, who invoked it 14 times, and suggests that the White House position would be upheld in the courts.

"The majority knows that the president's assertions of executive privilege go back to George Washington, and rest on long-standing and well-reasoned court rulings and bipartisan executive practices," he said. "It knows that the courts have long honored the president's need to keep advisers advice confidential."

Democratic Congresswoman Linda Sanchez believes Congress would prevail in a court battle.

"After six years of the Bush administration's vast expansion of presidential power, time is long overdue for Congress to reassert itself as a co-equal branch of government and restore checks and balances in our democracy," she said.

Contempt of Congress is a federal misdemeanor carrying a potential $100,000 fine and one-year prison sentence.

The committee vote moves the matter to the full House where a simple majority is required for passage. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would then formally refer it to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who would then submit it to a grand jury.

However, the White House has stated it would block prosecution of a contempt of Congress case on grounds that present law does not apply to aides under a presidential assertion of executive privilege.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow had this response when asked about Wednesday's vote.

"In our view, this is pathetic," said Snow. "What you have right now is partisanship on Capitol Hill that quite often boils down to insults, insinuations, inquisitions and investigations, rather than pursuing the normal business of trying to pass major pieces of legislation."

In a report accompanying their recommendation, House Democrats say their investigation uncovered serious evidence of wrongdoing by White House staff and Justice Department officials, and apparent false or misleading statements to Congress.

Neither the House nor the Senate has voted on a contempt of Congress citation since 1983 when the House voted to cite a government official who failed to appear at a hearing.