Who trusts the White House? It's a short list

Tony Snow, Dan Bartlett, the Wall Street Journal and John Yoo.

Published March 22, 2007 1:35PM (EDT)

How well is the Bush administration's "trust us" approach on the firing of U.S. attorneys playing? Today's White House Morning Update gives a pretty good indication. In the vehicle the White House Communications Office uses to distribute as much pro-administration press as it can find, there are exactly four snippets related to the prosecutor purge or the president's refusal to let Congress put Karl Rove, Harriet Miers or other White House officials under oath. The first is a quote from White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. The second is a nearly identical quote from White House Counselor Dan Bartlett. The third comes from an editorial from the Wall Street Journal.

And the fourth comes from John Yoo, the former Bush administration lawyer who once made a living arguing that the president has breathtakingly broad powers, including the power to order what most of us would consider torture. Yoo's argument now? He speculates that efforts will soon "emerge" to "insulate U.S. attorneys from presidential control," and then says that such efforts would be disastrous. And why's that? It turns out that the president is pretty powerless after all. "The president has no constitutional authority to order executive branch officials to obey his policies, except by removing them," Yoo explains. "If independence rules, the defense secretary could double the surge of troops into Baghdad to end the fighting there, the secretary of state could settle the Korean nuclear crisis on easier terms, and the attorney general could stop bringing drug trafficking cases if he disagreed with the war on drugs."

If that parade of horribles isn't enough for you, Yoo's got one more: If you want to see just how bad a truly independent prosecutor can be, he says, look no further than Patrick Fitzgerald.

"Patrick Fitzgerald's pursuit of Scooter Libby shows us what happens when a prosecutor reports to no higher authority," Yoo writes. "He single-mindedly persecuted Mr. Libby, at great taxpayer expense, without any sense of the damage caused to the workings of our government in wartime -- and over a confused sequence of misstatements later characterized all too easily as 'lies' about a crime that Mr. Fitzgerald found had not happened anyway."

The circle Yoo doesn't close: The case against Libby -- the case for which Libby was convicted -- dealt with false statements made by the vice president's chief of staff, false statements that spun out of the false statement the president made in his State of the Union address in the course of making a case for war that itself turned out to be pretty much entirely false.

Snow and Bartlett seem incredulous that members of Congress won't just trust that no-oath, transcript-free "interviews" with administration officials will reveal the whole truth about the prosecutor purge. But at this late date, the only thing incredible here is that there's still anyone around who would make such an argument.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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