President Bush set the terms: He would allow key aides to testify before a Congressional committee about the firings of eight federal prosecutors BUT not under oath, on the record or in public. Democratic Congressional leaders said NO WAY, arguing that THAT approach lacked transparency.
And yesterday Congress struck back. A House sub-committee approved subpoenas for administration operatives, including Bush's key political adviser, Karl Rove. Now the White House considers its next move, and it could lead to a constitutional showdown between the Executive Branch and Congress. We've been there before — with Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and others.
This Hour On Point: The test of wills between a newly empowered Congress and a President with his back to the wall.
Quotes from the Show:
"This is careening toward what could be the first major constitutional crisis of this second term. I think the administration has very much the experience of Scooter Libby on their minds. They don't want to see a wide ranging investigation, under oath, that could lead to perjury down the line. ...This is an issue that the Democrats are absolutely united on." Gail Chaddock
"I think the big picture [of this controversy] relates to the manipulation of the administration of justice. It is true that prosecutors that prosecutors are hired and fired at will by the President, but of 468 US Attorneys confirmed by the Senate over the 25 years up to 2006, only 10 left office involuntarily, for reasons other than a change in administration. Wholesale removal, as the one that Bill Clinton did when he came in, doesn't threaten manipulation of particular prosecutions." Laurence Tribe
"The claim of executive privilege is very hard to maintain after one has dumped an avalanche of emails with an unexplained gap between, as I understand it, about November 16 and December 7, 2006, just before 7 of the 8 firings [of US Attorneys] occurred. You can't have the cake and eat it too in that way." Laurence Tribe
"The most common way in which executive privilege claims are resolved is not in the judiciary but in negotiation. And so, I don't think the President or the White House here can be put into a kind of whipsaw where people are saying he's not interest in allowing the truth to be told and at the same time fault him for allowing that truth to be told by the disclosure of information. The 3000 pages or so of materials that have been distributed are really his [Bush's] offer of the truth, his offer of a complete accommodation of the interests of legislature." Douglas Kmiec
"It is extraordinary to have the White House staff testify before Congress. It has been done, but virtually in all of the cases in which it has been done, the interest in having that testimony related to very specific, far more specific than what we have here — allegations of misconduct." Douglas Kmiec
"The general principle is that the President gets to have a staff that advises him and can advise him with candor, and openness and without being fearful that they are going to be required to disclose their advise on the front pages of the Washington Post as a result of testimony in public on Capitol Hill. That is, I think, a very important principle to preserve." Douglas Kmiec
Gail Chaddock, congressional correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor
Laurence Tribe, professor at Harvard Law School
Douglas Kmiec, professor at Pepperdine University Law School and former Justice Department official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
This program aired on March 22, 2007.