Columns » Hightower

Come on, Congress, get some gumption


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If the arrogant autocrats of the Bush regime had been depicted in a 1950s B-movie, it would be called The Imperial Presidency Strikes Again, and the movie poster would feature members of Congress cowering at the feet of an all-powerful Bush.

Sadly, the image is all too real, for the Bushites are slapping down Congress once again. At issue is the crass effort by the White House and top Justice Department officials to turn America's non-partisan U.S. attorney offices over to GOP political hacks willing to attack Democratic officeholders. They got caught, but the White House is even refusing to have this politicalization of justice investigated.

When Congress subpoenaed two top Bush aides involved to testify, they defied this perfectly legal demand. A House committee then voted to hold the two officials in contempt, but Democratic leaders were skittish about even asking Bush's attorney general to enforce the contempt citation. When they finally got up the nerve to do so, the attorney general imperiously said no, unilaterally rejecting Congress' clear constitutional power to investigate such wrongdoing.

Some in Congress meekly say that their hands are tied, that they can't make a recalcitrant presidency obey the law. But that's as wrong as it is pathetic. A little-known doctrine called the power of "inherent contempt" gives Congress the incontrovertible right to enforce its own contempt citations a right that it has exercised before and that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. By "enforce," I mean that Congress can send its sergeant-at-arms to arrest the White House outlaws, imprison them in a Capitol jail, and put them on trial by Congress itself.

America's founders intentionally created a muscular Congress. The question is whether today's leaders have the gumption to measure up to their own institutional power. Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale now from Viking Press. For more information, visit


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