[...] House Democrats prepared contempt of Congress citations against two White House aides who have refused to comply with subpoenas for information on the abrupt firings of federal prosecutors.
The White House has said that Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former legal counselor Harriet Miers, among other top advisers to President Bush, are absolutely immune from subpoenas because their documents and testimony are protected by executive privilege.
House Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., reject that claim and have drafted for a vote Wednesday a resolution citing Miers and Bolten with contempt of Congress, a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence.
The panel's vote is the first step on the road to a possible constitutional showdown in federal court.
If history and self-interest are any guide, the two sides will resolve the dispute before then. Neither side wants a judge to settle the question about the limits of executive privilege.
But no deal appeared imminent. White House Counsel Fred Fielding has offered to make top administration officials available for private, off-the-record interviews about the administration's role in the firings. But he has invoked executive privilege and directed Miers, Bolten and the Republican National Committee to withhold almost all relevant documents. Miers did not even appear at a hearing to which she had been summoned, infuriating Democrats.
Democrats rejected Fielding's "take-it-or-leave-it" offer and advised lawyers for Miers and Bolten that they were in danger of being held in contempt of Congress.
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