Even before the Speaker had certified the contempt, this letter arrived from Deputy Attorney General James Cole informing him that “the Department has determined that the Attorney General’s response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime, and therefore the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General.”
It should be noted that the statute, 2 U.S.C. § 194, assigns a duty to the United States Attorney, not to the “Department.” It is interesting that the letter comes from the Deputy Attorney General, not from the United States Attorney for District of Columbia, who is the official charged with the responsibility for presenting the congressional contempt case to the grand jury.
Presumably the Department would point to the fact that Attorney General Mukasey sent a similar letter in the case of the congressional contempt certifications for Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers. But the fact that something was done before doesn’t make it right, and I cannot understand why the Attorney General (or the Deputy Attorney General), rather than the U.S. Attorney, would be responsible for making the decision that the statute clearly assigns to the latter.
Presumably, in this case the letter did not come from Attorney General Holder because it would look like a conflict of interest for Holder to declare that he would not prosecute himself. But this doesn’t look much better.
Update: here is Senator Grassley’s letter to U.S. Attorney Machen questioning whether he has made an independent determination regarding the scope of the executive privilege claim and whether the case should be submitted to the grand jury.