House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called on federal prosecutors to convene a grand jury to weigh contempt of Congress charges against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers.
Pelosi wants U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey Taylor to work "with appropriate dispatch" to put the case before a grand jury. She said the misdemeanor contempt charges against Miers would be for refusing to testify to Congress about the 2006 firings of federal prosecutors and against Bolten for failing to turn over White House documents related to the purge.
Pelosi's demands were spelled out in letters sent Thursday to Taylor and Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Taylor's office would decide whether to select a grand jury, but to move forward, he must first consult with the attorney general.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Mukasey is taking a look at the referral, but the Justice Department traditionally does not make those types of referrals.
"As we have said previously, last July the Justice Department informed the House leadership that longstanding department precedent, dating back through several administrations of both parties, did not allow a United States attorney to refer a congressional contempt citation to a grand jury or otherwise to prosecute an Executive Branch official who carried out a presidential instruction to invoke the president's claim of executive privilege before a committee of Congress," Roehrkasse said.
The House Judiciary Committee tried repeatedly to summon Miers and Bolten to testify about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, but President Bush's aides ignored the committee's subpoenas, arguing executive privilege.
The House voted two weeks ago 223-32 to hold Bolten and Miers in contempt for not cooperating with committee investigations. Most Republicans refused to vote on the issue and staged a walkout of the House chamber.
Pelosi, disputing the administration's tactic of not responding to earlier subpoenas, wrote: "There is no authority by which persons may wholly ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed because a president unilaterally instructs them to do so. Even if a subpoenaed witness intends to assert a privilege in response to questions, the witness is not at liberty to disregard the subpoena and fail to appear at the required time and place."
She wrote to Mukasey that a press spokesman stated the Justice Department would act promptly to review the matter and make a final decision. "We will appreciate your acting with appropriate dispatch on this important matter."
Pelosi added that if the Justice Department intends to prevent Taylor from pursuing the case, that "we respectfully request that you inform us of that decision within one week from today, so that the House may proceed with a civil enforcement suit in federal district court."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers also chided the department to act on Pelosi's request.
"I hope the Justice Department will put the partisan manipulation of our system of justice behind it, and follow its obligation to allow this matter to be addressed by a grand jury. To do otherwise would turn on its head the notion that we are all equally accountable under the law," Conyers said.
The White House, responding to the request, refused specific comment, but suggested House Democrats are the ones being manipulative.
"House Democrats have been trying to redefine the notion of contempt, and they succeeded. Rather than passing critical national security legislation, they continue to squander time on partisan hijinx. That is truly contemptible, said White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto.
A statement from Boehner's office blasted Pelosi's request.
"This partisan political stunt is a complete waste of time when the Democratic leadership should be working with Republicans and responsible members of the Democratic caucus to protect our country by passing the bipartisan FISA modernization bill," the statement reads, referring to an expired terror surveillance package over which House Republicans alongside the White House have battled Democrats to renew.
"The terrorist threat to our country is not going away, and this sort of pandering to the left-wing fever swamps of loony liberal activists does nothing to make America safer," the statement reads.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and Ian McCaleb contributed to this report.