George W. Bush said Tuesday evening that he'll allow "relevant committee members on a bipartisan basis to interview key members of my staff to ascertain relevant facts" about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year.
If that sounds like a pretty circumscribed offer, that's because it is. Check out all the qualifiers -- "relevant" committee members, "key" members, "relevant" facts -- and then throw in the way that White House Counsel Fred Fielding has described the president's offer: "Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony, or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas."
Put it all together, and the White House proposal is more about arrogance than accountability: You agree that you won't subpoena anyone from the White House, and we'll let those of you we deem "relevant" talk to officials we deem "key" about subjects that we deem "relevant," but you can't do it in public, you can't have a transcript, and you can't issue a subpoena later even if you think that whoever it is we let you interview has lied to you along the way.
"My administration has made a very reasonable proposal," the president said. "And if information is the desire, here's a great way forward."
Democrats on Capitol Hill were understandably unimpressed. The House Judiciary Committee will meet this morning to consider the issuance of subpoenas for Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and others. And even before Fielding presented the White House offer Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy had made it clear that private interviews weren't going to suffice this time. "I want testimony under oath," Leahy said over the weekend. "I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this. I do not believe in this, 'We'll have a private briefing for you where we'll tell you everything,' and they don't."
Democrats don't seem overly concerned about the president's threat of legal action to stop subpoenas. But then, even some of the president's former staffers are saying that the White House show of support for Alberto Gonzales might not be all that it seems. As Newsweek reports, "some alumni of the Bush White House" say that the president's supportive phone call to Gonzales Tuesday "means little" for the attorney general's job security. "True, Bush is not likely to fire Gonzales," Newsweek says. "But these former aides say they expect Gonzales to offer up his own resignation, just as former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld did after the GOP lost the midterm elections."