Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The failing Presidency

The fired U.S. Attorneys scandal -- still no catchy name for it yet -- is exposing the political failings of the Bush Administration far more than I expected. Here are some quotes from Bush's speech yesterday, with my comments/translations below:

[After volunteering to have Rove speak to Congress, behind closed doors and not under oath]
The initial response by Democrats, unfortunately, shows some appear more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts. It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available. I have proposed a reasonable way to avoid an impasse. I hope they don't choose confrontation. I will oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials.

What a weird argument. Bush is claiming the Democrats are being "partisan" when the reason the U.S. attorneys were fired was because they weren't "loyal Bushies," in the words of Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff. Moreover, it makes no sense for Bush to commit to a showdown on principal: he's got 35% approval, and the Dems just got swept into power. Why would you want to force a Constitutional "crisis" when you are weakest? The Dems, rightly smelling blood, have already issued subpoenas.

Second, it is common for me, members of my staff, and the Justice Department to receive complaints from members of Congress in both parties, and from other citizens. And we did hear complaints and concerns about U.S. attorneys. Some complained about the lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud cases, while others had concerns about immigration cases not being prosecuted. These concerns are often shared between the White House and the Justice Department, and that is completely appropriate.

Boy, is this suspicious. It sure sounds to me like President Bush was actively involved in firing these attorneys, perhaps because they weren't "loyal Bushies." And despite his protestations to the contrary, most Americans won't think it "completely appropriate" for the President and his staff to conduct political witchhunts to purge the Department of Justice of Democrats. Again, this a political loser.

Q: Mr. President, are you still completely convinced that the administration did not exert any political pressure in the firing of these attorneys?
THE PRESIDENT: Deb, there is no indication that anybody did anything improper. And I'm sure Congress has that question. That's why I've put forth a reasonable proposal for people to be comfortable with the decisions and how they were made. Al Gonzales and his team will be testifying. We have made available people on my staff to be interviewed. And we've made an unprecedented number of documents available.
Q: Sir, are you convinced, personally?
THE PRESIDENT: There's no indication whatsoever, after reviews by the White House staff, that anybody did anything improper.


Wow. I mean, it's hard to make question dodging more obvious than this response. The question was not whether, in Bush's opinion, anyone did anything "improper." The question was whether there was political pressure in the firing of attorneys. At various times, the Administration's position has been that they serve "at the whim of the President" and therefore political pressure was a justifiable reason for terminating them. Having caught political hell for this, Bush is now stuck mouthing vague non sequitur. This is what it feels like to have your political balls cut off.

Q: And then you'll go to the mat, you'll take this to court —
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I hope the Democrats choose not to do that. If they truly are interested in information — in other words, if they want to find out what went on between the White House and the Justice Department, they need to read all the emails we released. If they're truly interested in finding out what took place, I have proposed a way for them to find out what took place. My concern is, they would rather be involved with partisanship. They view this as an opportunity to score political points.


Once again, what an odd defense, when the charge against you is excessive partisanship. Whoever came up with this strategy should be out of a job.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Nic said...

Have the fired attorneys come out and said anything yet?

3:28 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

One wrote an editorial for the NY Times today.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The coming legal battle over “executive privilege” should be interesting. I read some of the ruling by the Supreme Court against Nixon and, while acknowledging some sort of privilege, it’s clearly not absolute.

I wonder if Tony Snow didn’t hurt Bush yesterday when he said, “the President has no recollection” of ever discussing this matter with anyone. Obviously that can be interpreted in several ways but if taken at face value, that would seem to weaken any claim to executive privilege if the President claims he had no knowledge or participation.

Lawyerly thoughts, Ben?

-- Big Daddy

4:27 PM  

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