I’m generally on this blog arguing for compromise — for the Bush administration to stop its ideological approach toward national security and other issues and get on with the job of governing. But in the latest debate taking over Washington, I find that I’m against the compromise. Bush has offered Democrats the chance to question his advisers behind closed doors and off the record as a way to get beyond the current impasse on the Attorney General scandal. Democrats have refused this offer and they are right to do so. This is a very important issue and the truth counts.
Here’s why this issue is important: this goes to the heart of the Bush administration’s character. From the beginning of his presidency, President Bush claimed to be a uniter who saw the world through non-partisan glasses. And this story suggests that in fact his advisers may see even the justice department, which is intended to be a guardian of objectivity and impartiality, as a partisan enterprise. Especially after the Libby case, it’s clear the only way to ensure the truth in Bush administration officials’ testimony is to legally bind them to it.
The responses by defenders of this compromise deal have been just plain silly. After acknowledging that there is no principled reason for having the testimony off the record, Fox News contributor Susan Estrich writes: “I’m willing to give Karl Rove and Harriet Miers the benefit of the doubt. After all, Karl is an old friend of mine, and I was ready to see Harriet confirmed to be on the Supreme Court. And truth be told, whatever they said or did here, I don’t think they’re the ones whose judgment is really at issue.” And I guess that really is the only reason one could give for such an off-the-record interview series. But what’s ironic is that the reason the interviews are needed in the first place is that Gonzalez and his team at Justice misled Congress to begin with. So, giving the benefit of the doubt seems just a bit naive.