The Corner

The White House Position

I just talked with White House press secretary Tony Snow about the president’s statement on the U.S. attorney matter.  He stressed, as the president did, that the White House offer as put forth in the Fielding letter, is final.  “This is it,” Snow said.  “We have made our offer.”

I asked whether the president was perhaps overly confrontational at this stage of the game.  “I don’t think it’s confrontational,” Snow said.  “We feel pretty comfortable with the constitutional argument.”  If members of Congress truly want to find out what happened with the U.S. attorneys, Snow said, they can do so.  “We’re saying, ‘You’re going to be able to get your information,’” Snow continued.  “We’re saying, ‘Any question you may have, you can get an answer to.’”

I asked specifically about the stipulation in the Fielding letter that interviews with Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and other White House officials be conducted “without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony, or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas.”  I pointed to the recent Libby trial, in which there was great dispute over what had been said in unrecorded, untranscribed interviews with the FBI.  You need a transcript to know an interviewee’s precise words, I said.  Snow argued that that wasn’t necessary because there will be members of Congress from both parties, staff, and others at the interviews.  “There will be a whole lot of people there [at the interviews] to be witnesses to what’s going on,” he said.  And besides, he added, “The strongest piece here will be the sheer weight of the documentary evidence [the e-mails] that is available.”  And, of course, officials from the Justice Department will testify at hearings, under oath, in the traditional way.

The White House, Snow said, is determined to avoid “hearings or the trappings of hearings” when White House officials talk to Congress.  “They’re looking for hands up, cameras on,” Snow said of Democrats.  “They’re talking about a show trial.”

Finally, I asked whether the White House believes this is a battle the president can win.  “Yes,” Snow said.  “In terms of presidential prerogative, in terms of preserving confidential communications with your staff — yes.”

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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