Now that Congress has recessed, and since the conventions aren’t for a couple of weeks, Thursday’s The Situation Room turned back to the "hot" issue of what many liberals are calling on congressional Democrats to do: arrest and lock-up Karl Rove for his failure to testify on the issue of the firing of U.S. attorneys in late 2006.
CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, as part of a report on this possible move by the Democrats, conducted a search for the supposed jail inside the U.S. Capitol. He also addressed the little-used power of the legislature to arrest and try government officials for contempt of Congress.
Acosta began by describing the liberals’ fantasy: "Just think, some on the Left say: Karl Rove and the Capitol slammer." During the segment, he interviewed George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley (who links to Daily Kos and ProgressiveDem.com on his personal website and is lead counsel for convicted terror financier Sami al-Arian) and Associate Senate Historian Don Ritchie for the segment. When asked about contempt of Congress charges, Turley quipped, "The defendant is brought forth by the Sergeant-of-Arms, and in the case of Mr. Rove, it shouldn't be difficult. He's a consultant of Fox News a block away from the House floor."
Ritchie brought Acosta to the bottom level of the Capitol to a tomb chamber originally built to hold the body of George Washington. He told of how "[a] lot of people who have seen it assumed, well, this must be the Capitol jail," due to the metal bars protecting the entrance of the chamber. The historian also told Acosta about the last time a member of a President’s administration was arrested for contempt of Congress, which was in 1934, when a former member of the Hoover administration was arrested and detained temporarily in Washington’s famous Willard Hotel. There isn’t actually a jail inside the Capitol building, but as Acosta reported, "Congress has a holding cell over at the Capitol police department" nearby.
The full transcript of Acosta’s report, which began 48 minutes into the 5 pm Eastern hour of Thursday’s The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER: A reluctant witness and a Congress that wants answers. We're talking about Karl Rove and questions about the firing of those federal prosecutors. Some say he should go to the Capitol jail if he doesn't talk. Is there really such a thing? Our Jim Acosta has been looking into this. Jim?
JIM ACOSTA: Wolf, with the President refusing to allow certain members of his administration to testify on Capitol Hill, some in Congress have threatened to turn back the clock and bring back the legislative branch's arrest powers. Just think, some on the Left say: Karl Rove and the Capitol slammer.
ACOSTA (voice-over): When Karl Rove refused to testify before a House committee last month, Democrats in Congress started thinking creatively.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSWOMAN: The claim of executive privilege is really not a valid one.
UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR FROM MSNBC: Congressman, I just want to clarify, there is a jail in the U.S. Capitol. You want Karl Rove in that jail?
ACOSTA: A jail in the U.S. Capitol? Has the Congress ever done that?
JONATHAN TURLEY: It would actually arrest people, try them, and even jail them in the Capitol.
ACOSTA: Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley says the House has the little-known authority to put administration officials on trial when they fail to testify. The charge? Contempt of Congress.
TURLY: The defendant is brought forth by the Sergeant-of-Arms, and in the case of Mr. Rove, it shouldn't be difficult. He's a consultant of Fox News a block away from the House floor.
ACOSTA: As for that jail --
DON RITCHIE, ASSOCIATE SENATE HISTORIAN: The great of majority people who tour the Capitol building never see this area.
ACOSTA: We went deep into the bowels of the Capitol with Senate historian Don Ritchie. The closest thing to a jail -- Washington's tomb, an area once considered and then rejected as a final resting spot for the first President.
RITCHIE: A lot of people who have seen it assumed, well, this must be the Capitol jail.
ACOSTA: But it's not the Capitol jail?
RITCHIE: No, it's never been used as the Capitol jail.
ACOSTA: The last time Congress detained an administration official -- 1934, when a member of the Hoover administration was temporarily held in the Willard Hotel.
RITCHIE: When he refused to cooperate then, he was turned over to the District courts. He was convicted of contempt of Congress and he was sentenced to ten days in a real prison.
ACOSTA: He was convicted?
ACOSTA: Technically, Congress has a holding cell over at the Capitol police department. Jonathan Turley wonders whether it will ever get that far.
TURLY: What you have is a game of constitutional chicken.
ACOSTA (on-camera): With Congress off on its August recess, there's still time for both sides to end to their showdown, but if that doesn't happen, don't be surprised if some Democrats don't start calling for high noon -- Capitol Hill style. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Jim. Thank you. Interesting stuff.