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House targets Bush aides; GOP stages walkout

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  • NEW: White House press secretary: Vote is "a partisan, futile act"
  • House voted 223-23 to hold two Bush aides in contempt
  • Aides were subpoenaed in investigation into U.S. attorneys' firings
  • House Republicans said surveillance bill was more important vote
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House voted Thursday to hold White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House lawyer Harriet Miers in contempt in its probe of the 2006 firings of U.S. attorneys.

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Former White House counsel Harriet Miers refused to appear at a hearing into the firings of U.S. attorneys.

The House voted 223-23 to hold the two Bush aides in contempt of Congress.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the move "a partisan, futile act" that would not be enforced by the Justice Department.

And the chamber's Republican minority staged a walkout before the vote, demanding that Democratic leaders vote instead on a revision of federal surveillance laws.

"We will not stand here and watch this floor be abused for pure political grandstanding at the expense of our national security," Minority Leader John Boehner said to jeers from Democrats.

But Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York, said Congress has to uphold its authority against a White House that is refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation.

And Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Congress has a right to hear from White House officials about the shakeup, which the Justice Department struggled to explain after it became public.

"There was plenty of evidence in our report that showed and suggested there had been many lines crossed between appropriateness and inappropriateness, legality and illegality, and perhaps constitutional violations as well," Conyers said.

Three Republicans who did not take part in the walkout -- including current presidential hopeful Ron Paul of Texas -- supported the resolution, while one Democrat, Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, opposed it.

The White House has insisted the firings were legal. But Democrats said the central questions behind the dismissals -- who decided the prosecutors should be ousted, and why -- remain unanswered.

Miers and Bolten had refused to testify in the investigation, which stemmed from the Justice Department's dismissals of federal prosecutors in eight cities.

President Bush has invoked a blanket executive privilege covering the testimony of all former and current White House officials and documents subpoenaed by Congress on the controversial firings.

The White House argues that the contempt-of-Congress laws do not apply to the president or any officials who invoke executive privilege, and that forcing the aides to testify would violate the Constitution's separation of powers.

Perino said the administration will not act to enforce Thursday's resolution.

"It's been well understood that throughout history, that while the executive and legislative branches have had disputes, that the Justice Department will not ask the United States attorney to follow through on the contempt charges," she said.

But Thursday's resolution authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce the subpoenas issued to Miers and Bolten. The committee first recommended contempt proceedings in July, and Conyers said, "We waited as long as we could" to go forward.

While some conversations between the president and top advisers may be considered private, Rep. Brad Miller, D-North Carolina, said Bush's claim "goes well beyond any privilege that's been recognized by any court."

"What is unacceptable is the idea that the president himself should decide," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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