Bush Stands By His Man

March 21, 2007 at 12:30 am Leave a comment

By Kate Phillips NY TIMES

(Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

It was very clear from President Bush’s brief statement and short news conference just ended that he does not intend to back down from his support of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, nor will he allow his top White House staff — adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers and their deputies — to be subjected to open public testimony on Capitol Hill.

He said the White House had offered a reasonable compromise to Congress as it investigates the firings of federal prosecutors; Mr. Gonzales and his staff would testify before Congressional committees to clear up “confusion” and offer the “facts.”

“There’s no indication that anyone did anything improper,” Mr. Bush said. He said both he and Mr. Gonzales were dissatisfied with the explanations offered to Congress so far, and promised to provide additional documents and testimony on the issue.

Asked whether Mr. Gonzales still enjoyed his confidence, “He’s got support with me.”

Democrats on the Hill seemed to flatly reject the compromise offered earlier today by the White House counsel, Fred Fielding: that Ms. Miers and Mr. Rove were willing to be interviewed privately, but not under oath and not in public. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the president should not be telling the Senate how to conduct investigations.

The president countered that tonight, basically saying that if Congress tried to subpoena his aides, there would be a constitutional showdown.

“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.

If we cut through all the partisan rhetoric, it’s important to maintain perspective on a couple of important points. First, it was natural and appropriate for members of the White House staff to consider and to discuss with the Justice Department whether to replace all 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of my second term. ”

He said he would go to the mat if Congress issued subpoenas to his staff.

As for the prosecutors who were fired, Mr. Bush said this, interestingly enough, since they were terminated rather abruptly by the Justice Department:

I’m sorry this, frankly, has bubbled to the surface the way it has, for the U.S. attorneys involved. I really am. These are — I put them in there in the first place. They’re decent people. They — you know, they serve at our pleasure. And yet now they’re being held up in the — to the scrutiny of all this.

And it’s just — what I said in my comments, I meant about them. I appreciated their service and I’m sorry that the situation has gotten to where it got. But that’s Washington, D.C., for you. You know, there’s a lot of politics in this town.

Yes, and these days, the politics in this town are pretty charged. If anything, the ensuing battle between investigative committees on the Hill and the Bush administration shows just how power has shifted, and illustrates what is occurring on the Hill now that Democrats are in power.

More documents are being turned over. And there are more challenges to presidential authority. To paraphrase the former House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, the Republican who tightly controlled things on the Hill and muzzled Democratic ideas – and dissidents within even his own party – until he resigned under fire last year: Get used to it. It’s going to be like this for the next two years.

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