Faced with widespread skepticism about its assertion that the “separation of powers” bars Congress from requiring testimony from White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, the White House has sent out the message, through Valerie Jarrett and others, that Rogers is actually a “close adviser” to President Obama, and therefore immune from compelled testimony. There is no doubt that the social secretary performs an important role at the White House. But it strains credulity to believe that Ms. Rogers plays a role on policy matters akin to those performed by the chief of staff, the national security adviser, the vice president, the White House counsel, and senior political advisers such as David Axelrod and Ms. Jarrett herself. Does Ms. Rogers counsel the president on health-care reform, the budget deficit, job creation, the Afghanistan surge, financial regulatory reform, or the myriad other major policy issues that have consumed his first year in office? Perhaps she does, and if so, the White House may not be playing fast and loose with the term “close adviser.” However, if her job is that of a traditional social secretary, then it is quite unlikely that she provides advice to the president on these types of issues.
But even if we assume, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Ms. Rogers is a “close adviser,” it is remarkably convenient that the White House has decided to take the position that close advisers should not be compelled to testify before Congress — the same position long advocated by the Bush administration and ridiculed by Democrats in Congress. One would never have known that the Obama White House held this view when, earlier this year, it helped broker an arrangement to settle the legal fight over access to testimony and documents relating to the U.S. attorney controversy. As part of that arrangement, the Bush administration agreed to permit Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to be interviewed under oath by Judiciary Committee members and staffers, and the committee released transcripts of those interviews to the public. In announcing the arrangement, White House counsel Greg Craig praised both the former administration and congressional leaders for resolving the dispute in the manner that such disputes “have historically been resolved — through negotiation and accommodation between the legislative and executive branches.”
Will President Obama take the path of “negotiation and accommodation” for which Mr. Craig, who will be leaving his post early next year, praised the former president, and permit Ms. Rogers to testify or at least be interviewed by committee members and staffers? Or will President Obama seek a second opinion from his incoming White House counsel, Robert Bauer? If the White House’s current messaging is any indication, what is good for the goose will not be good for the gander.
– Dana M. Perino is former press secretary to Pres. George W. Bush. Bill Burck is a former federal prosecutor and deputy counsel to President Bush.