Members of the Judiciary Committee were acting in their capacity as the members of Congress charged with oversight of the executive branch's legal operations. Specifically, were investigating whether John Yoo's "torture memo" functioned to justify illegal practices like waterboarding, stress positions, and fake executions at Guantanamo and other facilities.
Not that Yoo or especially Addington cared. Both men were intent on showing their contempt for Congress in general and the legislative oversight of the Judiciary Committee in particular.
When Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers asked about Addington's "unitary theory of government," Addington disdainfully replied:
"I frankly don't know what you mean by unitary theory," Addington replied.And on and on.
"Have you ever heard of that theory before?"
"I see it in the newspapers all the time," Addington replied.
"Do you support it?"
"I don't know what it is."
The usually mild Conyers was angry. "You're telling me you don't know what the unitary theory means?"
"I don't know what you mean by it," Addington answered.
"Do you know what you mean by it?"
"I know exactly what I mean by it."
When the final questioner, Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), asked about waterboarding, Addington refused to answer altogether
"I can't talk to you -- al-Qaeda may watch these meetings."
What should the Congressional Democrats do when Bush officials like Addington stonewall, refuse to answer questions, or refuse to testify altogether as in the case of Joshe Bolten and Harriet Miers.
Perhaps Congress should just arrest them for contempt.
That was the solution proposed by Judge John Bates in a hearing over Congress' lawsuit over the refusal of Miers and Bolton to appear before a committee in relation to the fired prosecutor scandal. According to Judge Bates:
"Congress has the authority to hold someone in contempt . . . Did it really need to go to court?"
The problem for the Democrats is that the Bush administration is eager to play chicken on issues great and small and dare the other branches of government to override them.
Let's give some quick examples. First, the Bush administration enacted its detention and interrogation policies in knowing defiance of American and international laws against torture. Likewise, Bush's warrantless wiretapping policies defied the 1978 FISA law. When these policies were overturned by the courts, the Bush people then demanded that Congress counter-act the courts and immunize all the people who violated the law.
Further, the Bush administration basically threatened to shut down the federal government last fall if Congress did not fund the Iraq War without deadlines or conditions on troop rotations. The president was going to veto any budget that did not have funding on their terms. If the government shut down or the military ran out of funding in Iraq, so much the worse for Congress.
Finally, Bush administration officials have either refused to respond to valid Congressional subpoenas, refused to testify when they do appear, and refused to answer questions in any kind of honest way when they do testify.
Of course, there is no doubt that much of the answer to the Bush administration's constant efforts to force showdowns is for the Democrats to develop more political backbone. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should have called Bush's bluff on Iraq War funding and passed legislation that only allowed funding for a withdrawal.
It would have been an appropriate and popular measure.
But Congress should also look at using more of its tools. Congress has the power to defund defiant units like the Vice-President's staff and put David Addington out of work. They could also defund various offices in the Department of Justice like the Attorney General's staff
They should be much more willing to do so.
Congress should also think about revising the special prosecutor law in a way that sets up a permanent investigatory agency that is not answerable to the President.
But Congress can start by putting administration officials in jail when they are "in contempt of Congress."