WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives filed a federal lawsuit Monday to compel former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to testify on the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
The two had already been found in contempt of the Democratic-led Congress, but the Justice Department last week declined to convene a grand jury to order the contempt citations be handed down.
Making good on her threat to take action if the Justice Department didn't permit the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to prosecute the case, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the House general counsel file the suit against the Bush administration.
"Congress, on behalf of the American people, is clearly entitled to the information that is being sought — it involves the politicization of the Justice Department and law enforcement, not national security information nor communications with the president. The president has no grounds to assert executive privilege," Pelosi said in a statement.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, who is a vocal critic of the Democrats on this issue and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the lawsuit was pointless and a waste of taxpayers' money.
"I have said it before and I will say it again: We have spent millions of dollars on lawyers, poured over thousands of pages of documents, and listened to dozens of witnesses and uncovered nothing that would warrant this extreme political maneuvering," Cannon said according to a statement from his office.
"I hoped this would eventually sink in, but instead it is creating an environment whereby the (Democratic) Majority wants to subpoena anything and everything," Cannon said, noting recent attempts to subpoena former Attorney General John Ashcroft and current Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Cannon said the time would be better spent focusing on terrorism, the economy and border security.
The lawsuit says Miers is not immune from the obligation to testify and both she and Bolten must identify all documents that are being withheld from Congress.
"We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said. He added he is confident the federal courts will concur that the administration's claims of immunity from congressional oversight are at odds with U.S. constitutional principles.
"Under our system of checks and balances, Congress provides oversight of the Executive Branch to make sure that government power is not abused. The administration’s extreme claims to be immune from the oversight process are at odds with our constitutional principles on which this country was founded, and I am confident the federal courts will agree."
The case stems from the decision by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fire nine federal prosecutors. Many opponents of the decision said the firings were political retribution, a claim denied by Gonzales, who was nonetheless forced to step down as a result.
Committee lawyers with the House Judiciary Committee say they filed suit against the Bush Administration over the contempt charges because they were at an impasse.
"We hope that the Administration will be willing to talk turkey," one lawyer said.
Committee lawyers said they had two options, and chose the less confrontational of the two by filing a lawsuit. They also could have chosen to hold their own trial through an "inherent contempt" process.
Said a committee lawyer, "The most unprecedented thing about this case is the administration's refusal to budge at all."
The lawyer continued: "The assertion here (of executive privilege) is breathtaking. President Clinton had to give a public deposition in the Paula Jones case. But even though she (Harriet Miers) is now a private lawyer in Dallas, she is now cloaked with immunity."
In coordination with committee Democrats, former Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Okla., chastised those Republicans who didn't back the vote earlier this year to cite Miers and Bolten for contempt.
"I think it's sort of embarrassing that Republican leaders are not unanimous. ... It's a shame they have chosen not to participate," Edwards said.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.