Chairman Waxman on Subpoenas

April 25, 2007
Blog
As noted below, the Oversight Committee is now holding a business meeting scheduled to discuss subpoenas regarding Secretary Rice and Iraq intelligence, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert identity, RNC emails and documents, and contacts between the White House and MZM. Chairman Henry Waxman notes in his opening remarks that last-minute negotiations have convinced him to postpone discussion of subpoenas regarding MZM and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. He also gives a brief history of the use of subpoena power in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

Chairman Henry Waxman:

"Think about that contrast: 1,052 subpoenas to the Clinton Administration and Democratic targets compared to just 5 subpoenas to the Bush Administration. This Committee has lived at two extremes. And neither has served the public well."

UPDATE: From the transcript:

I think many of my colleagues know that I take some pride that as Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee from 1979 to 1994, I never issued a single subpoena. That doesn't mean we didn't conduct investigations, we did, including important inquiries into the Bush and Reagan Administrations and the tobacco industry. But we were never forced to issue a single subpoena to get the information we needed.

That's important to me because I believe subpoenas are one of the most powerful tools of government. They compel others to turn over information, essentially against their will, to the government. It is an essential power but it is one best used as a last resort.

I feel especially strongly about this because I've seen this Committee abuse the subpoena power.

From 1997 to 2002, Chairman Dan Burton issued 1,052 subpoenas to the Clinton Administration and Democratic targets. None of those subpoenas was debated or voted on in this Committee: all were issued unilaterally by the Chairman.

Some were ridiculously overbroad; others were issued to victims of mistaken identity. And over two million pages of documents were given to the Committee in response to those subpoenas.

In 1997, Chairman Burton organized the Committee on February 12. By today's date in 1997, April 25, Chairman Burton had already unilaterally issued 104 subpoenas, including six to the Clinton White House. That's 104 subpoenas in 72 days. If you exclude weekends, that works out to about two subpoenas every day he was Chairman.

When President Bush took office in 2001, I saw the other extreme. In 2001 and 2002, Chairman Burton didn't issue a single subpoena to the Bush White House. The only subpoenas he issued involved requests for documents involving prior administrations.

From 2003 to 2006, my friend Tom Davis chaired this Committee. He knows the admiration I have for him. I've often said he did more investigating than all the other House Republican chairmen combined.

But the fact is, he also did not use the subpoena authority of this Committee in the way I thought appropriate. His approach was the polar opposite of Chairman Burton's during the 1990s: there was too little use of the subpoena under Chairman Davis.

In four years, Chairman Davis issued a total of just five subpoenas to the Bush Administration. Two were to the Department of Energy in a Yucca Mountain investigation; one was a subpoena Democrats requested relating to the Development Fund for Iraq; one was a subpoena Democrats requested relating to the treatment of a Defense Department whistleblower. He also issued one subpoena that Democrats requested relating to Jack Abramoff. And in his capacity as Chairman of a separate select committee that examined Hurricane Katrina matters, he issued a subpoena to the Department of Defense.

No subpoenas were issued to the Bush White House.

Think about that contrast: 1,052 subpoenas to the Clinton Administration and Democratic targets compared to just 5 subpoenas to the Bush Administration.

This Committee has lived at two extremes. And neither has served the public well.

As Chair, I don't want to be at either extreme. I want this Committee to be independent, as nonpartisan as possible, and fact-driven. My goal is to conduct investigations without subpoenas. But if we are stonewalled, we can't hesitate to use the power we have.