By Dan Froomkin
1:33 PM ET, 03/ 5/2009
Yesterday's announcement that former Bush White House aides Karl Rove and Harriet E. Miers will answer questions from congressional investigators about the U.S. attorney scandal puts an end to the absurd proposition advanced by the previous administration that senior advisers to the president have blanket immunity from any congressional oversight whatsoever, and if subpoenaed don't even need to show up.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the interviews will be held behind closed doors -- and the transcripts will only be released on a delayed basis. That's bad in part because the public now won't see Rove and Miers sweating under the hot lights. But the more significant problem is that journalists, bloggers and the greater public won't be able to immediately pore over their responses in detail.
Rove, in particular, is the reigning champion when it comes to giving the superficial impression of answering a question while in fact dodging, weaving and spinning to the point of misdirection. If a transcript is not immediately available, the public will have to rely on second-hand accounts that could be profoundly misleading.
As I wrote back in May 2008, what Rove fears most is being forced to answer a direct question in public, especially under oath. And I wrote about the importance of a transcript back in March 2007, when this particular episode began -- and when the Bush White House offered Rove up as long as there was no transcript at all.
According to the agreement brokered by the Obama White House, no transcripts will be made public until "after the completion of the last interview and after counsel has had a reasonable opportunity to review them for accuracy. No document or part of any document and no description or partial description of any document shall be disclosed to any other person until after the completion of the last interview."
Wayne Slater, who covered Rove back when he was a political operative in Texas, blogs for the Dallas Morning News: "Rove appears on camera almost every day on FoxNews. So why not Congress...
"Truth is, Rove has a history as a fiesty, effective interviewee. Some years ago in Texas, when he was working for the tobacco industry, he underwent a memorable deposition by trial lawyers -- and gave as good as he got, firing back, denouncing his inquisitors. And he has proved he can answer questions without answering them. Rove aggressively denied every charge leveled by a Texas Senate Committee asking about political dirty tricks -- even though there was evidence against him. And when Kay Bailey Hutchison was indicted (later acquitted) on charges of politicizing her office in 1993, Rove rode to the rescue with testimony that was effective, if not exactly true." (Update: Reader Brad Thomson writes in with a link to the tobacco deposition.)
Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "Attorneys for former president George W. Bush, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Obama administration reached agreement yesterday to resolve a long-running dispute over the scope of executive power, a move that will allow lawmakers to question Bush aides Karl Rove and Harriet E. Miers about their roles in the firing of nine federal prosecutors in 2006.
"The pact follows weeks of negotiations led by White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who wanted to avert a federal court showdown that could have restricted the authority of the president in future disputes with other branches of government.
"Under the terms of the deal, former presidential adviser Rove and former White House lawyer Miers will testify before the House Judiciary Committee in transcribed interviews, under penalty of perjury, but without cameras, reporters or members of the public in attendance. The transcripts eventually will be published, the agreement said.
"The settlement gives the Judiciary Committee access to long-sought internal documents prepared by the Bush White House and the Justice Department from December 2004 through March 2007 about the politically explosive firing of the nine prosecutors. Lawmakers also reserved the right to ask the onetime Bush aides to testify in public and made clear that Congress could revive its lawsuit in a federal court in the District if former administration officials stray from the agreement....
"Lawmakers will not ask Rove or Miers about privileged conversations they had with members of the Bush White House legal team, and they will not be able to see 'four pages of particularly sensitive privileged material' to be described by a Bush representative, the agreement said."
Bill Sammon writes for Fox News: "Although he says it could turn into a 'show trial,' Karl Rove tells FOX News he is looking forward to telling the House Judiciary Committee about his alleged role in the firing of federal prosecutors and the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman...
"'Some Democrats would love to have me barbecued.'"