In Washington the answer to that question would seem to be, when it is committed by someone in the Bush Administration and when prosecution would depend on the Democrats going forward with charges.
When President Clinton got a hummer in the oval office, the Republican’s had no problem trying to punish him at every turn but when our current executive branch approves illegal spying on US citizens, the Democrats instead give those responsible a “get out of jail free card”. When Rep Dennis Kucinich tried to get hearings for impeachment going in the House, he is instead given a few minutes to vent in an “Executive Power and Constitutional Limitations” hearing with no chance of it making it to the House floor for a vote (not that it would have gone anywhere anyways).
The latest case of contempt revolves around former Bush puppeteer Karl Rove’s blowing off of a congressional subpoena to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee. Instead of showing up like he was legally bound to do, the committee stared at an empty chair with Rove’s nameplate in front of it while Rove hopped on a plane for a trip overseas.
So here we sit again with the ball in the court of the Democrats. The House Judiciary Committee recommended 20-14 to hold Rove in contempt but has not themselves cited him for contempt, instead recommending that the House bring it to a floor vote. Nancy Pelosi apparently has not decided whether or not she would even allow it to come to a vote but if she did it would probably never go anywhere because the Democrats have allowed the Bush Administration to gather so much power they could quash it anyway.
What will happen next is unclear. The next step usually would be a vote by the full House of Representatives, but the House is scheduled to adjourn for its August recess this week, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not confirmed that she will bring up the citation for a vote. Even if she did, and even if the full House voted to hold Rove in contempt, the next step would not be clear either. Once the full House approves a citation, the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., is supposed to bring it to a grand jury, but President Bush has already directed the U.S. attorney not to do so in a case in which executive privilege has been invoked. (emphasis mine)
If anyone wants to tag the current Democrat led Congress with anything, not doing something to take back some of the powers grabbed by the executive branch during the past 7 years would have to top the list. Bush and his cronies have done more to blur the Constitutional line drawn between the branches of government than anyone in our lifetime and because the Democrats have no backbone, they will likely end up getting away with it.
Quite a legacy for all involved…
UPDATE: Well knock me over with a feather. A District judge has ruled that the “Untouchables” in the Bush Administration aren’t as immune to subpoenas as they claimed. What will the Democrats do next?