BUSH ASSERTS EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE…. Well, this hardly comes as a surprise.

President Bush, moving toward a constitutional showdown with Congress, asserted executive privilege Thursday and rejected lawmakers’ demands for documents that could shed light on the firings of federal prosecutors.

Bush’s attorney told Congress the White House would not turn over subpoenaed documents for former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor.

“With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation,” White House counsel Fred Fielding said in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. “We had hoped this matter could conclude with your committees receiving information in lieu of having to invoke executive privilege. Instead, we are at this conclusion.”

Yeah, I’m sure the White House is all broken up about it. They’d hoped to avoid “confrontation,” but those pesky Dems kept insisting they had some kind of oversight responsibilities or something.

The White House counsel’s office also said Miers and Taylor would not testify next month, as required by subpoena.

Last week, The Hill reported, “House Judiciary Committee Democrats warned yesterday they would pursue a contempt of Congress motion if the White House fails respond to subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the firings of U.S. attorneys last year.” Stay tuned.

Update: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy responded to today’s announcement: “This is a further shift by the Bush Administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances. This White House cannot have it both ways. They cannot stonewall congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while claiming nothing improper occurred…. Increasingly, the President and Vice President feel they are above the law – in America no one is above law.”

Legally, we’re in for a fierce fight in the courts. Politically, the White House is now left looking as if it has something to hide, in large part because it almost certainly has something to hide.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.