It wasn't long into the Senate Judiciary Committee's questioning of former White House political director Sara Taylor before the inevitable happened and Taylor declined to answer questions asked of her, based on President Bush's assertion of executive privilege over her testimony.
Under questioning from the chairman of the committee, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., Taylor declined to answer three questions. Apparently trying to get around the parameters of the president's assertion of executive privilege, as laid out in an earlier letter from White House counsel Fred Fielding, Leahy tried to ask Taylor not about the substance of any discussions she may have had with President Bush but a yes or no question as to whether she had discussed the firing of U.S. attorneys with him at all. Taylor would not answer.
"Senator, I have a very clear letter from Mr. Fielding," she said. "... As I read that, I determine my acknowledging whether a conversation occurred or did not occur would in fact be in part of the deliberations" covered under the president's assertion of the privilege.
Next, Leahy asked Taylor whether she had ever attended a meeting with the president at which the replacement of U.S. attorneys was discussed, and whether she was "aware of any presidential decision document since the 2004 election" in which the president decided to go ahead with the replacement of U.S. attorneys. Taylor declined to answer both questions.
It's not yet clear what, if any, sanction will be levied against Taylor for refusing to answer. The committee's only real recourse in this case is to pursue a citation for contempt of Congress against her; Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the ranking member of the committee, has said he would oppose such a move. (On Monday, we talked to experts about the intricacies of executive privilege and what happens now that the president has asserted it in this case -- for that background, see our post here.)
Both Leahy and Specter have commented on the lack of Republican senators at the hearing. Seven Democrats are in attendance; Specter is the only Republican.
"[T]he one Republican is so formidable it's a pretty even number," Leahy joked.
"Oh, we agree again," Specter laughed.
But then Leahy got serious. "I would note for the record that every single Republican was invited. ... They could be here if they wanted to be here."
We'll be following Taylor's testimony as it continues -- if you want to watch it for yourself, it's available for viewing on the committee's Web site.