The US Attorneys scandal seems to be turning an important new page every day. And today it turned what can best be referred to as the “Rose Mary Woods” page.

Rose Mary Woods was the longtime secretary to Richard Nixon who as a fiercely loyal employee of the president in the waning days of the Watergate crisis claimed in grand jury testimony that she had inadvertently created at least part of an 18 1/2 minute gap a White House audio tape that had become central to the investigation of presidential wrongdoing.

“The Rose Mary Woods Defense” proved to be a tough sell in 1974, failing to close off congressional inquiries that would eventually lead to votes by the House Judiciary Committee in favor of articles of impeachment against Nixon.

But that has not stopped the Bush White House from mounting a “Rose Mary Woods Defense” in its attempt to prevent the House and Senate judiciary committees from examining the full scope of the scandal that arose after the White House fired eight U.S. Attorneys who, apparently, did not want to politicize their offices in a manner that would benefit Republican electoral prospects.

In response to demands from the Senate Judiciary Committee for records of political communications by Bush aides, the White House is claiming emails that could shed light on the role political czar Karl Rove and as many as 21 other presidential appointees may have played in pressuring U.S. Attorneys are “potentially lost.”

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel had acknowledged that 22 White House aides have e-mail accounts sponsored by the Republican National Committee. Those accounts have become a focus of the rapidly-expanding U.S. Attorneys inquiry, as it is assumed that they would have been the avenue by which state party officials sent memos asking key players in the White House to pressure the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys to advance so-called “voter fraud” cases, to prosecute Democrats or to back off prosecutions of Republicans.

Stanzel says e-mails sent and received on those accounts can’t be found.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is not taking those claims seriously.

“They say they have not been preserved. I don’t believe that!” Leahy declared in what for him was an exceptionally passionate speech on the Senate floor Thursday. “You can’t erase e-mails, not today. They’ve gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there, they just don’t want to produce them. We’ll subpoena them if necessary.”

Stanzel insists that the White House, which has repeatedly attempted to thwart congressional inquiries into matters relating to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys who fell afoul of the Bush administration for what appear to have been political reasons, now says that there is no effort to conceal emails that could reveal information about contacts regarding the eight fired U.S. Attorneys or about pressures on the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were no fired.

On Tuesday, Leahy and five other senators demanded documents regarding a botched prosecution in Wisconsin by a U.S. Attorney who was not fired. That prosecution paralleled the 2OO6 election cycle and was exploited by Republicans in a television ad campaign against Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. The Senate’s interest in the Wisconsin case indicates that the inquiry is expanding to examine not just White House pressures on fired prosecutors but on those who were retained.

Stanzel says the White House counsel’s office is conducting a “review” into the missing emails. “The purpose of our review is to make every reasonable effort to recover potentially lost e-mails, and that is why we’ve been in contact with forensic experts,” says the Bush aide.

But Leahy bluntly responds, “E-mails don’t get lost. These are just e-mails they don’t want to bring forward.”

It looks like the “Rose Mary Woods Defense” is not going over any better in 2OO7 than it did in 1974. To his credit, the usually cautious Leahy says he is prepared to subpoena the emails and related documents. He won’t be satisfied with “dog-ate-my-homework” excuses. And rightly so.

These emails are definitely not missing, but they may well be incriminating.

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John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”