Mukasey won't pursue contempt probe of Bush aides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused on Friday to pursue contempt citations issued by the House of Representatives against a current and a former White House aide for not cooperating in a probe of the firing of U.S. attorneys.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey listens during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington December 11, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Saying no crime was committed, Mukasey rejected a request by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to refer the citations to a federal grand jury investigation of current White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

“The Department has determined that the non-compliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime, and therefore the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citations before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute Mr. Bolten or Ms. Miers,” Mukasey said in a letter to Pelosi.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted 223-32 earlier this month, with most of President George W. Bush’s fellow Republicans abstaining, to pursue legal action against Bolten and Miers for failing to provide documents and appear at a hearing.

In doing so, the House also authorized its Judiciary Committee to go to court to file suit to enforce the subpoenas.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said if the Democrats choose to move forward, a federal judge would likely turn down the case.

“In the event the court decided to entertain the case on the merits, we are confident the judge would rule that the president’s assertion of executive privilege is legally sound and correct,” added Fratto.

The case centers on the Justice Department’s firing under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of nine of the 93 U.S. attorneys. Critics charged the federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons, allegations denied by the White House.

Mukasey said in the letter to Pelosi that Bush, citing executive privilege, had directed his two aides not to comply, and the Justice Department had determined that Bush’s order was legal and therefore it would not take any further action.

(additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)

Reporting by Jim Vicini and Christopher Doering; Editing by Peter Cooney