This is how administrations implode (Har Har Har):
Bush Clashes With Congress on Prosecutors
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg
The New York Times
Wednesday 21 March 2007
Washington - President Bush and Congress clashed Tuesday over an inquiry into the firing of federal prosecutors and appeared headed toward a constitutional showdown over demands from Capitol Hill for internal White House documents and testimony from top advisers to the president.
Under growing political pressure, the White House offered to allow members of Congressional committees to hold private interviews with Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff; Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel; and two other officials. It also offered to provide access to e-mail messages and other communications about the dismissals, but not those between White House officials.
Democrats promptly rejected the offer, which specified that the officials would not testify under oath, that there would be no transcript and that Congress would not subsequently subpoena them.
"I don't accept his offer," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "It is not constructive, and it is not helpful to be telling the Senate how to do our investigation or to prejudge its outcome."
Responding defiantly on a day in which tension over the affair played out on multiple fronts, Mr. Bush said he would resist any effort to put his top aides under "the klieg lights" in "show trials" on Capitol Hill, and he reiterated his support for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose backing among Republicans on Capitol Hill ebbed further on Tuesday.
"We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants," the president told reporters in a brief and hastily convened appearance in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
The pointed exchange was set off by a Democratic inquiry into whether the White House let politics interfere with law enforcement by dismissing eight of the nation's 93 United States attorneys. The dismissals and the way the Justice Department informed Congress about them have created an uproar in both parties, as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have demanded explanations.
Tuesday's confrontation was the sharpest yet between the Bush White House and the new Democratic majority in Congress on a matter of oversight, and it set the stage for a legal showdown over executive privilege. Democrats threatened to subpoena Mr. Rove and the others unless they testified publicly and under oath, while the White House vowed to fight subpoenas in court.
The fallout from the dismissals continued to ripple across the capital.
In the Senate, lawmakers responded to the furor over the firings by voting overwhelmingly to revoke the authority they had granted the administration last year under the USA Patriot Act to install federal prosecutors indefinitely without Senate confirmation.
Lawmakers also spent the day poring over 3,000 pages of newly released e-mail messages that provided a glimpse inside the Justice Department as officials planned the dismissals and then reacted to the issue as it ignited into a political crisis.
The administration has voluntarily released e-mail messages from inside the Justice Department but has drawn the line at releasing communications among members of the White House staff, citing the tradition that a president is entitled to advice from his aides that does not have to be couched out of concern that it will become public.
The e-mail messages showed that the agency only gradually appreciated how seriously it had miscalculated the response the firings would provoke. As late as early February, D. Kyle Sampson, who stepped down last week as Mr. Gonzales's chief of staff, suggested the uproar would blow over, writing, "The issue has basically run its course."
With many Democrats and a growing number of Republicans calling for Mr. Gonzales to step down, Mr. Bush placed an early morning telephone call to his beleaguered attorney general, to offer him "a very strong vote of confidence," said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. Still, Mr. Gonzales's support among Republicans appeared increasingly thin.
"His ability to effectively serve the president and lead the Justice Department is greatly compromised," Representative Adam H. Putnam of Florida, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said during a lunchtime interview with reporters. "I think he himself should evaluate his ability to serve as an effective attorney general."
Against that backdrop, the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, went to Capitol Hill to make what Mr. Bush called a "reasonable proposal" to permit members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to conduct private interviews with Mr. Rove; Ms. Miers; William Kelley, the deputy White House counsel; and Scott Jennings, a deputy to Mr. Rove.
In a carefully worded letter to the committees, Mr. Fielding said the White House was prepared to give Congress "a virtually unprecedented window into personnel decision-making within the executive branch."
One of two Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting, Representative Chris Cannon of Utah, said in an interview afterward that he had pressed Mr. Fielding on whether he "understood that a lie would be prosecutable," even if the interview was not conducted under oath. "He said, 'Yes, we understand that,' " Mr. Cannon said. Lying to Congress can be a crime even if the false statements are not made under oath.
But Democrats dismissed Mr. Fielding's offer as window dressing. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, suggested that the administration had misled him, and released a Justice Department letter that said it was not aware that Mr. Rove had played any role in the decision to appoint one of his former deputies as United States attorney in Arkansas.
"I want to hear Karl Rove testify under oath about the role he played in this whole affair," Mr. Reid said.
As the war of words escalated, people on both sides acknowledged a legal fight carried political risks. Beth Nolan, who was counsel to President Bill Clinton and twice testified to Congress under subpoena, said she suspected the clash would lead to more negotiations, and not a court fight. "There's the legal path to the fight and the political path," she said. "It's much more likely that you'll see a political path."
The Bush administration has been a fierce defender of presidential powers but has solved most of the issues without going to court. For instance, the president and Vice President Dick Cheney agreed to be interviewed by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, although they did so behind closed doors and not under oath. Nevertheless Mr. Bush said Tuesday that he would "oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials." Asked if he would be willing to go to court over the matter, Mr. Bush said, "Absolutely."
Mr. Bush once again defended the dismissals, and he said it was "natural and appropriate" for members of the White House staff to discuss them with the Justice Department. At the same time, he offered an apology to the dismissed United States attorneys, saying, "I regret that these resignations turned into such a public spectacle."
The motivation for the dismissals is still not fully understood. Democrats, including Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is leading the inquiry in the Senate, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, have said they want to know whether prosecutors were dismissed to thwart public corruption investigations.
"The time for slippery explanations is over," Mrs. Feinstein said Tuesday, after the Senate voted 94 to 2 to repeal the Patriot Act provision. "We don't intend to stop now. We intend to flesh out who did what, when and why."
The Justice Department e-mail messages did little to flesh that out. They contain no mention that the firings were motivated by any particular prosecutors' action or inaction in any public corruption cases. Nor do the messages show that the Bush administration had a batch of replacement candidates in place in seven of the eight United States attorney's offices.
But the documents do show how unprepared the Justice Department was early this year for the response. On Dec. 7, 2006, the day the prosecutors were told they were being removed, Gerald Parksy, a prominent California Republican fund-raiser and friend of the president's, "put in an outraged call" to the White House protesting the dismissal of the United States attorney in San Francisco, Kevin Ryan, according to an e-mail message from a White House official to the Justice Department.
Mr. Kelley, the deputy White House counsel, asked one Justice Department official to provide more details of the firings to White House political aides so that they could help Mr. Rove answer calls about the action. As the uproar mounted, officials at the department headquarters scrambled to prepare a list of reasons for removing the prosecutors, struggling at times to find substantial causes, particularly for Daniel Bogden in Nevada, Margaret Chiara in Michigan and David C. Iglesias of New Mexico.