Barely a week after he commuted the 30-month sentence of a former White House insider who was convicted of engaging in felonious attempts to thwart investigations of administration wrongdoing, President Bush has erected another barrier to getting to the truth about whether he and his aides have knowingly violated the law.
In a letter sent Monday to the Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who heads the parallel Senate panel, Bush invoked executive privilege to deny requests by the committees for testimony from former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former White House political director Sara Taylor.
Bush’s lawyers suggested that Miers and Taylor, both central players in the scandal that has emerged over attempts by the administration to politicize federal investigations and prosecutions, might speak with members of Congress about the firings of US Attorneys who did not go along with the administration’s agenda. But the administration says that can only happen in closed-door, off-the-record “interviews” that would not be given under oath.
Conyers and Leahy have repeatedly rejected such proposals. The committee chairs say, correctly, that inquiries into whether the administration used the Justice Department for political purposes–particularly moves to fake up so-called “voter fraud” cases as part of a broader push to make it harder for elderly, low-income and minority citizens to cast ballots–must be open and above board.
That is not the style of this White House.
So uncooperative is Bush that his attorney, White House counsel Fred Fielding, even refused a request from lawmakers that the President explain the basis for invoking executive privilege.
Fielding would only claim that the “assertion of executive privilege here is intended to protect a fundamental interest of the presidency: the necessity that a president receive candid advice from his advisers and that those advisers be able to communicate freely and openly with the president, and each other and with others inside and outside the executive branch.”
The truth, of course, is that the “fundamental interest” of the Bush presidency that is at stake is far more consequential than that of defending candid conversation in the White House. As with the decision to commute the sentence of “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, this imposition of executive privilege would appear to have far more to do with protecting the president from scrutiny than with maintaining the quality of internal White House communications.