A concession from the White House?

As one official denies Bush's "personal involvement" in the prosecutor purge, another seems to admit that there were extensive internal White House discussions.

Published June 28, 2007 7:03PM (EDT)

In a conference call with reporters today, a "senior administration official" said that just because George W. Bush is arguing that the need to get unfettered advice from his advisors justifies his refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas in the U.S. attorney scandal, that doesn't mean that the president actually got any advice on the matter in the first place.

Reporter: Is the president saying ... that he himself personally was in receipt of advice about the U.S. attorney firings, and that's why he's invoking the privilege? The documents went to him; that his staff provided him with advice, and that's what he's protecting?

Senior administration official: Oh no, no, that would be a misconstruction of the breadth of the executive privilege ...

Reporter: So, he is still maintaining that he had nothing to do with the actual discussions between White House staff, meaning [former White House counsel Harriet] Miers and [former White House political director] Sara Taylor, and the Justice Department related to the attorney firings -- that he had no direct involvement?

Senior administration official: No, there's no change in our position at all ... He has no personal involvement. Our position has never been any different than that.

Of course, it's not really true that Bush had "no personal involvement" in the firing of U.S. attorneys last year. The White House has acknowledged, for example, that Bush told Alberto Gonzales last October that he was hearing complaints about some of the prosecutors who were eventually fired.

But what may be more interesting is that at the same time the "senior administration official" is disclaiming any personal involvement by the president, another senior administration official -- this one with a name, solicitor general and, for these purposes, Acting Attorney General Paul Clement -- seems to be acknowledging that there were, in fact, fairly detailed internal White House deliberations about which prosecutors should be fired.

As Think Progress notes, Clement writes in a memo setting forth the administration's "executive privilege" argument that some of the "internal White House communications" sought in the congressional subpoenas discuss "the possible dismissal and replacement of U.S. attorneys." "Among other things," Clement writes, "these communications discuss the wisdom of such a proposal, specific U.S. attorneys who could be removed, potential replacement candidates, and possible responses to congressional and media inquiries about the dismissals."

"Internal White House communications" about "specific U.S. attorneys who could be removed" and "potential replacement candidates"?

Perhaps now would be a good time to remember how the White House was characterizing the U.S. attorney scandal back in February and March. For that, we have this March 3, 2007, story from the Washington Post, which said: "Officials portrayed the firings as part of a routine process, saying the White House did not play any role in identifying which U.S. attorneys should be removed or encourage the dismissals."

And perhaps now would be a good time to ask, once again, why it is that the White House doesn't want transcripts made if or when Harriet Miers or Sara Taylor ever sits down to talk with congressional investigators about the role the White House really played in the firings.

By Tim Grieve

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

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