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Statement of Representative Howard Berman in Support of Civil and Criminal Contempt of Congress Resolutions


Location: Washington, DC

Statement of Representative Howard Berman in Support of Civil and Criminal Contempt of Congress Resolutions

Madame Speaker, I rise in strong support of this resolution. Many Americans are frustrated and angry because they believe that this Administration is not being held to account for its actions. Now, after 7 years, much of the public turns this frustration at Congress because it is the branch with the responsibility for oversight.

Last year, the House Judiciary Committee undertook a very serious investigation into allegations that a number of key law enforcement officers in our country—United States Attorneys—were being fired for their unwillingness to respond to political pressure in various cases. This led to information about other actions that were clearly politicizing the work of the Department of Justice. You will hear people on the other side talk about the investigation wasting time. This was no fishing expedition. The fact is that the revelations from this investigation led to the resignation of the Attorney General of the United States.

We are here today because this Administration responded to a legitimate investigation - the exercise of our oversight duty—by stonewalling in the extreme. The disrespect shown to this body has been stunning, culminating in the fact that when the committee subpoenaed the testimony of Harriet Miers, neither she nor her attorney bothered to even show up to assert the privilege she claimed.

To justify the Administration's behavior, the President has asserted an astonishingly broad theory of executive privilege which claims that any document or information from any individual who has ever worked for the President is covered and therefore immune from being compelled to testify before Congress. This view of executive privilege may be unprecedented in our history, and if accepted, it would chill any meaningful oversight of the executive branch and grant near limitless power to the President to hide information from Congress, the courts, and the American people.

The utter contempt shown by this Administration toward Congress and its constitutional duties is unacceptable, and to permit these actions to stand unchallenged would be an abrogation of our constitutional responsibility.

Approving these contempt resolutions would send a strong message to the Administration that Congress will not be ignored. At the end of the day, whether civil or criminal action is successful, our most important goal should be getting to the truth.

If we do not respond to the Administration's disregard of the legislative branch, we risk rendering permanent damage to our own institution and to this country's cherished system of checks and balances. Failure to act will also set a dangerous precedent that future Administrations will almost assuredly seek to exploit. To my colleagues on the other side who are trying to dismiss these resolutions as partisan-- I urge you not to be short-sighted. This is not a partisan issue. It is a matter that strikes at the heart of our democracy and the checks and balances on which it depends.

Congress has been eminently patient in awaiting the President to provide information on the U.S. Attorneys scandal. Yet, rather than work with us to get to the bottom of wrongdoing in his Administration, the President has continued his pattern of actively hiding possible evidence of illegal behavior by high-ranking officials in his Government and stonewalling any inquiries to get to the truth. Because it is each Member's very responsibility to support and defend the Constitution, we have absolutely no other choice than to pursue this action against the President's Chief of Staff and his former chief legal counsel. I urge my colleagues to vote yes.

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