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“The Rule of Law Goes Out the Window”

Rove behind Gonzales

AP Photo by Pablo Alberto Monsivais

No sooner had House and Senate Judiciary Committees authorized their chairmen to issue subpoenas to White House officials to compel their public sworn testimony over the forced resignations of US attorneys than Tony Snow made the rounds Thursday playing the fair minded victim against reporters uncivil enough to ask why Administration officials should not testify openly under oath.

Tony’s talking points were: “show trial,” “Perry Mason moment,” “partisan grandstanding,” and “fishing expeditions.” The Democrats can get all the information they need, he insisted, if only they accept closed sessions, limited attendees, no oaths or recordings, limited topics and a promise not to call the aides again. That would be fair, I suppose, if White House officials were above the law. When Tony asked a reporter whether she wanted the truth or sworn testimony, the reporter asked, “why not both?”

C&L posted Tony’s exchange with CBS’ Harry Smith. Watch Tony dodge when Smith asks why, when he has a transcipt of Snow’s last presser, the Congress is not entitled to a transcript of White House aides’ testimony to Congress. But is anyone buying this?

I think Americans recognize stonewalling and sense the White House is hiding something, like more Abramoff scandals. Why shouldn’t Karl Rove testify in public when the Administration worked so hard to give his protege a USA slot held by Bud Cummings? The more Snow tries to defend their stonewalling, the more they’ll lose public support and convince the public they’re covering up something pretty awful.

On Countdown last night, John Dean concluded that since the WH position is indefensible, it must be only an opening offer. Fred Fielding has simply staked out an extreme position from which he can back down. Dean recalls Fielding made similar proposals about Nixon’s aides during the Watergate hearings.

Republicans argue that if Conyers and Leahy will just talk to Fielding, they can get the information and avoid a confrontation. As expected, the ever untrustworthy Arlen Specter offered his own compromise, but the WH has no reason to negotiate with the powerless Specter; when a reporter asked Tony Snow whether the WH would accept Specter’s compromise, Snow laughed and said “no.” Does Specter ever tire of looking like a naive lapdog?

Leahy knows that the WH has staked out an indefensible position, and the longer they maintain it, the worse they look. They’re offering “nothing, nothing, nothing,” Leahy declared. He seems quite happy to let the WH sit there and look like they’re covering up, while his Committee continues its investigation and lays the foundation for Rove by grilling Alberto Gonzales and other DoJ officials in the coming weeks.

By not issuing the subpoenas now, the Democratic Chairs are keeping their options open and can define the scope of the subpoenas once they’ve built a stronger record. That leaves the WH and Snow just twisting in the wind as the Committees fill in the 18-day gap.

Jane’s and Christy’s posts yesterday quoted from the WaPo article in which DoJ political operatives forced the assistant US Attorney in the anti-tobacco suits to scale back the prosecution, limit expert testimony, reduce damage requests and read a closing argument the political operatives wrote. That interference confirms Paul Krugman’s warning (Times Select): the scandal isn’t just the eight who were forced out but also the 85 who are still there and keeping quiet, or others who resigned earlier in disgust, but never spoke out. The money quote came from the 22-year former US prosecutor, Sharon Eubanks:

Eubanks said Congress should not limit its investigation to the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys.

“Political interference is happening at Justice across the department,” she said. “When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general’s office, politics is the primary consideration. . . . The rule of law goes out the window.”

That quote echoes statements from other former prosecutors disgusted by what this Administration has done to the rule of law and the Department of Justice. Some of the eight USAs have been shown to be highly regarded and are speaking out to defend their reputations. In the meantime, the DoJ continues to make up stories about why these eight, but not others, were forced out.

We can expect more revelations. And I’d be surprised if we’ve heard the worst of the disrespect for law and obstruction of justice that became the tradecraft of too many in the Justice Department under George Bush and his pliant Attorney General.

UPDATE: Waxman letter now seeking information from DoJ on the tobacco case. (h/t emptywheel)

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley