WASHINGTON – A U.S. judge who ruled last month that top White House advisers must comply with congressional subpoenas refused to put that ruling on hold Tuesday while the Bush administration appeals.
The House Judiciary Committee wants to force White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify about the firing of federal prosecutors and the politicization of the Justice Department.
The White House contends that top aides are immune from such subpoenas.
U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected that argument last month but the Bush administration appealed. The White House said it should not have to comply with the subpoenas while the appeal plays out.
Bates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said a delay would not be in the public interest.
If a delay is granted, he said, "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."
Bates also rejected the core of the government's argument: that it was likely to prevail at the appeals court.
"Simply calling an issue important — primarily because it involves the relationship of the political branches — does not transform the executive's weak arguments into a likelihood of success," Bates wrote.
Bates' decision last month gave some teeth to Congress' power to investigate the executive branch, because earlier disputes had been settled through political compromise instead of the courts.
The judge said Miers can assert executive privilege — the principle that the executive branch must be independent from the legislative branch — and refuse to testify, but she must appear in Congress in person.
Tuesday's ruling could reinvigorate negotiations between the two branches to settle the dispute, but the White House can still try to get the ruling put on hold if it asks an appeals court to do so.