A Washington, D.C. federal judge ruled Thursday that members of the administration do not enjoy absolute immunity from the reach of congressional subpoenas.
This is an answer to a legal conundrum that has been developing for a long time, as the Democratic Congress has pushed for answers from the White House over the U.S attorney scandal, detainee interrogation methods and more.
But U.S. District Court Judge John Bates gave the matter some clarity today, saying that former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Bush chief of staff Joshua Bolten could not refuse to testify in response to congressional requests.
Bates, by the way, was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. He is also a member of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The White House had argued that staffers like Miers and Bolten were immune from congressional process. But Bates, in a 93-page ruling, said there was no legal foundation for that claim.
The White House position “is without any support in case law,” Bates wrote, adding that the contention that “Miers is absolutely immune from compelled congressional process” is “unprecedented.”
But the ruling was only a partial victory for Congress.
While ruling that Bolten and Miers had to testify, Bates said they were free to invoke executive privilege during that testimony for matters in which the privilege could apply. Meaning that it is likely if the two do appear, the matter will end up right back in front of Bates.
The administration is also expected to appeal to the federal appeals court in Washington, which will likely drag the case out past the end of this session of Congress. That would render the subpoenas moot.