A federal judge denied the White House's last-ditch attempt to block a former aide from testifying before Congress as part of the investigation into the U.S. Attorney scandal.
Today's ruling by Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is expected to pave the way for former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, who returned to her old law firm in Texas, to testify before Congress in the coming months. It also urges the White House to turn over documents subpoenaed from former chief of staff Joshua Bolten.
"If the government is trying to run out the clock on the 110th Congress, today's decision suggests that Judge Bates won't let them," said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University.
Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., chair of the House Judiciary Committee, praised the decision and pledged to schedule a hearing for Miers shortly.
"I am heartened that Judge Bates recognized that the public interest in this matter is best served by the furtherance of the Committee's investigation," he said in a statement.
The decision came in response to the White House's request for a stay to Bates' ruling last month requiring Miers and Bolten to comply with congressional subpoenas until an appeal is complete.
In his decision, Bates ruled that such a stay was not legally required.
"Without any supporting judicial precedent whatsoever -- and, indeed, in the face of Supreme Court case law that effectively forecloses the basis for the assertion of absolute immunity here -- it is difficult to see how the Executive can demonstrate that it has a substantial likelihood of success on appeal, or even that a serious legal question is presented," Bates wrote.
Indeed, he wrote, there was little harm to the White House or Miers if she were to appear before the committee because the administration could still appeal its claim of immunity.
Instead, Bates wrote, if she did not testify, "there is a very strong possibility that the Committee will be unable to complete its investigation before Congress expires. That may leave important public concerns regarding the nation's federal criminal justice system unaddressed."
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Miers and Bolten in June 2007, after the White House declined several requests from Democrats for information. When the two failed to comply with the subpoenas, the House held them in contempt and sought court help to enforce the decision.
Despite White House protest, Bates ruled last month that the two did not have blanket immunity from congressional inquiries, although they could invoke executive privilege in response to specific questions or requests.