- WASHINGTON - President Bush
yesterday invoked executive privilege to block a congressional subpoena
exploring abuses in the Boston FBI office, prompting the chairman of a
House committee to lambaste his fellow Republicans and triggering what
one congressman said is the start of "a constitutional confrontation."
"You tell the president there's going to be war between the president
and this committee," Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who heads
the House Government Reform Committee, told a Justice Department official
during what was supposed to be a routine prehearing handshake.
"His dad was at a 90 percent approval rating and he lost, and the
same thing can happen to him," Burton added, jabbing his finger and
glaring at Carl Thorsen, a deputy assistant attorney general who was attempting
to introduce a superior who was testifying.
"We've got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does
not want Congress involved. ... Your guy's acting like he's king."
The searing tone continued for more than four hours from Republicans and
Democrats, liberals and conservatives. All objected to the order Bush signed
Wednesday and made public yesterday. It claimed executive privilege in
refusing to hand over prosecutors' memos in criminal cases, including
an investigation of campaign finance abuses, saying doing so "would
be contrary to the national interest."
Committee members said the order's sweeping language created a shift in
presidential policy and practices dating back to the Harding administration.
They complained also that it followed a pattern in which the Bush administration
has limited access to presidential historical records, refused to give
Congress documents about the vice president's energy task force, and unilaterally
announced plans for military commissions that would try suspected terrorists
Representative William Delahunt, a Democrat and former district attorney,
said: "This is the beginning of a constitutional confrontation. In
a short period of time, this Department of Justice has manifested tendencies
that were of concern to Senate members during the confirmation hearings
for John Ashcroft as attorney general."
The Government Reform Committee is investigating the FBI's use of confidential
informants while the bureau investigated New England organized crime activities.
The committee is seeking information on deals Boston FBI officials struck
with suspected murderers Stephen "the Rifleman" Flemmi and James
"Whitey" Bulger. It is also exploring what FBI officials, including
former Director J. Edgar Hoover, may have known about the innocence of
Joseph Salvati of Massachusetts.
Salvati spent 30 years in prison for the 1965 murder of Edward "Teddy"
Deegan in Chelsea, but the Governor's Council commuted his sentence in
1997. His conviction was overturned in January after a judge concluded
that FBI agents hid testimony that would have cleared Salvati because
they wanted to protect an informant. ___
- "It would be easier if I was a dictator." -George
W. Bush, shortly after his innnauguration, 2001