Intoday’s gagglewe discover that the White House is concerned that Karl Rove might burst into flames.
Q The cameras weren’t on this morning. You came and said one of the big stumbling blocks is you don’t want to see Karl Rove with his hand up in front of a bunch of cameras flashing.
MR. SNOW: You bet.
Pony Blow Explains Checks and Balances
MR. SNOW: There are — in this particular case, the Department of Justice — the Congress does have legitimate oversight responsibility for the Department of Justice. It created the Department of Justice. It does not have constitutional oversight responsibility over the White House, which is why by our reaching out, we’re doing something that we’re not compelled to do by the Constitution, but we think common sense suggests that we ought to get the whole story out, which is what we’re doing.
Q So Tony, this President for years has used the Constitution as his backdrop. He said, look, this is my right under the Constitution.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q This government was founded on a series of checks and balances. Why not, if you’re going to say you’re using the Constitution, just apply what she’s using there to what this government was founded upon: checks and balances —
MR. SNOW: What actually —
Q — and one legislative body checking another legislative body, and having a top White House official testify under oath.
MR. SNOW: Well, we are an executive body, not a legislative body. And secondly, we have, in fact, said, what we’re going to do is bend the rules in favor of Congress on this part, because we are going to give the —
Q There are checks and balances, correct?
MR. SNOW: What we are doing — yes, but you’re mixing —
Q Not necessarily.
MR. SNOW: Well, yes, look, again, there’s a legitimate oversight of the Justice Department and the decisions that went into this, and what we’ve said is since there were conversations and communications between the White House and the Justice Department, you ought to be able to see them all — every one, every single — every single communication available to the American public.
Pony Blow On Civility
Q Tony, you just said a moment ago you don’t want a fight, but this morning you compared this drama, or whatever you want to call it, to “Boston Legal,” “Law & Order.” You’ve used words like “show trials,” “klieg lights,” “partisan fishing expedition.” It seems like you have been spoiling for a fight, and you’ve been poisoning the well with that kind of rhetoric at the start, before —
MR. SNOW: Do you think that some Senate Democrats, when they talk about crimes, have been poisoning the well? I’ll tell you what I was talking about, Ed. That was a rhetorical question, I apologize — I know that’s a sore spot. But the fact is, what I was talking about was a spectacle. And I still hold my characterizations of those things. The question is, do you want to have a dignified process, one that is going to demonstrate that in Washington senior political officials of both parties can act like grownups and get the nation’s business done, so that you can conduct a good-faith inquiry into an issue that’s interesting and important to people, and at the same time, also make that pivot to working on things like funding the troops.
We Don’t Need No Steenking Transcripts!
Q Why haven’t you moved on the transcript issue, though, then? This morning you were saying off-camera that you don’t need an oath because if someone says something that’s not true, they still could be prosecuted if they lie to Congress, essentially.
MR. SNOW: Right. Well, again —
Q If there’s no transcript, what U.S. attorney can actually go through and see what they said, if there’s no record?
MR. SNOW: I will let you — you’re asking a legal question that I would refer you either to the Department of Justice or to prosecutors, because they know the law. As you know, Ed, anybody who testifies before Congress, anybody that talks before Congress, is under an obligation to tell the truth, and if they don’t, they’re liable to legal punishment.
Q If they don’t have a record of it, how would a U.S. attorney know how to prosecute it —
MR. SNOW: U.S. attorneys have been able —
Q — you trust people’s word.
MR. SNOW: I’m not a prosecutor, but I think you’ll find that plenty of prosecutors out there will tell you how to get a conviction without a transcript.
Pony Admits They Are “Dodging the Oath”
Q Tony, will this President —
Q — dodging the oath because of the legal consequences?
MR. SNOW: We’re dodging the oath because — well, I’m not going to say we’re dodging the oath, because that — (laughter.) Yes, I know, kaboom, steel trap closes. No, it’s — this is not a notion of dodging. It’s simply, we don’t think it’s appropriate.
Q Appropriate doesn’t set the scene.
MR. SNOW: The scene?
Q People are seeking the truth.
MR. SNOW: That’s right, and we’re making the truth available. And that’s why we’re kind of confused, because it seems that people are more interested in sort of seeing White House officials with their hands up being hectored, and I don’t think members of Congress —
Q Why do you say that? Why don’t you think they really want to know —
MR. SNOW: Why don’t you — okay, I’ll tell you why, because there is so much speculation about this. I opened up the newspapers today, and there are pictures of Karl Rove, many people saying, we need to — the purpose here is to find out what happened, what the truth is.
Q How about that?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Pony Blow On Transparency
Q But do you agree that transparency is something that this administration shuns?
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t agree.
Q Okay, when it was time for the Vice President to give up the list of names of his energy council —
MR. SNOW: Well, as you recall, April, that was, in fact, a separation of powers case that the Vice President —
Q I understand —
MR. SNOW: — won precisely because of the checks and balances you’ve talked about.
Q But secrecy, secrecy —
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute. You can’t have it both ways. You’ve just talked about constitutional prerogatives —
Q I’m saying how this White House seems to run from transparency.
MR. SNOW: No, we’re not running.
Q Then you had the 9/11 Commission, we’re having conversations, nothing under oath. And now this.
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute. The 9/11 Commission, number one, was authorized by Congress and signed by the President and supported by the administration. What we were trying to do was, again, to avoid the kind of precedent that we’re talking about now, which is to bring senior aides up under oath. So what you ended up having were, in fact — I think they were categorized as briefings. They used that particular — they used that formulation for precisely the same reasons I’m talking about now.
So I don’t think this is a matter of transparency. This is a matter of trying to have — what do you mean? Condoleezza Rice was on there and she was facing tough questioning from Richard BenVeniste —
Q But certain people — the Vice President and the President would not testify under oath. You had “conversations” at that time. And there’s a —
MR. SNOW: Yes. That’s perfectly appropriate.
Q You used the word “avoid.” There is an avoidance, it seems, of this administration to sit down and talk on the record, under oath, about critical issues.
MR. SNOW: What you’re saying is that every time somebody wants to try to mount a charge you ought to be able to get hauled up and testify under oath, with a presumption of criminality, rather than a presumption of goodwill. I’m not going to buy that.
Q Was it criminal, 9/11 — was that criminal?
MR. SNOW: No. What I’m saying is that the 9/11 Commission, we participated fully.
An Excellent Question
Q I’d like to ask a question about the war spending bill. Part of this debate is the assertion by you and others, and including the President, that a date certain for withdrawal of troops would lead to chaos, accelerated violence, regional conflict in Iraq. Why should Americans trust your assumptions about the outcome of troop withdrawal, based on this administration’s record of assumptions and the way things played out in Iraq?
Pony Blow Has Had About All The Les Kinsolving He Can Take
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. The Washington Times published Purdue law professor, Louis Beres, and Israeli Major General Isaac Ben-Israel’s statement that Israel has the right guaranteed to all states to act preemptively when faced with nuclear assault. And my question: Does the President agree or disagree with their writing that this is affirmed in international law?
MR. SNOW: The President is not commenting on op-ed pieces. Next.
Q They all — well —
MR. SNOW: I know — I know, it’s a good question. And it’s — you know, it’s got great concern, but you know what? You ask me questions like this, I can’t give you answers. And you know what? Why do you do this? Give me a question that — rather than asking an argumentative question about something that raises a provocative issue, or give me a head’s up, and I’ll try to do it. But we go through this. I love you. But you’ve got to help me out here. (Laughter.) I mean, it’s just — you know.
Q But these were statements by these —
MR. SNOW: I know, and you think the President should respond to every statement made in every newspaper in the United States of America?
Q No, I just want to know. If you don’t want to respond, that’s fine. Could I just follow this up with the second part of it? They also write that the right to such preemptive action is also affirmed in the September 20, 2002 American policy codification of the national security strategy of the United States. Are they wrong in this?
MR. SNOW: No, we have a national security strategy, and I’m glad that they have read it.