Last Friday, with only 15 minutes to spare before the House Oversight Committee was scheduled to vote on holding EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and White House official Susan Dudley in contempt of Congress, the Bush administration invoked executive privilege – thus expressing its own contempt for that pesky concept known as “congressional oversight”.
The impending vote from the committee chaired by Henry Waxman was in response to Johnson and Dudley, the administrator of regulatory affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, refusing to hand over subpoenaed documents relating to the EPA’s denial of a waiver allowing California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes (along with about a dozen-and-a-half other states with similar laws on their books), and possible interference from the White House influencing the decision.
As has been widely reported, documents and testimony from EPA officials strongly suggest that Johnson was initially in support of at least a partial waiver, in accordance with the unanimous recommendation from his own staff, only to make an about-face and deny the waiver after contact with the White House.
Waxman’s committee has had access to thousands of documents and sworn testimony from EPA officials, but Johnson and the White House have consistently refused to abide the subpoena for specific documents relating specifically to phone calls or meetings between at least one high-ranking EPA official and an assistant to the the president.
The stonewalling from the EPA and White House begin immediately after Johnson announced his decision and continues with Bush’s claim of executive privilege.
Representative Waxman cancelled the contempt of congress vote Friday upon receiving the letter from the White House invoking executive privilege in order to determine Attorney General Michael Mukasy’s rationale for the claim.
Waxman made clear his doubts as to the motives of the White House and the veracity of its assertion of privilege.
I have a clear sense that their assertion of this privilege is self-serving and not based on the appropriate law and rules," Waxman said from the dais of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing room.
I don't think we've had a situation like this since Richard Nixon was president when the president of the United States may have been involved in acting contrary to law, and the evidence that would determine that question for Congress in exercising our oversight is being blocked by an assertion of executive privilege.
The battle rages on.