On the March 20 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, while discussing President Bush's statement earlier in the day that he would "oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials" by Congress, host Chris Matthews asked Chicago Tribune Capitol Hill correspondent Jill Zuckman and Weekly Standard staff writer Matthew Continetti: "Do either one of you think there's any chance in the world that any president -- weak, Republican, Democrat, liberal, or conservative, early in the term, late in the term -- would ever let his top political henchman testify before an opposing Congress under oath? Would anybody ever let that happen?" Matthews went on to ask Continetti: "Do you agree, Matt, there's no way any president would ever let his top person go up there?" Continetti replied, "I don't think Bill Clinton would make [former Clinton campaign manager] Jim Carville go up there under oath. So I don't see this, Rove, going up there any time soon."
But contrary to Matthews' suggestion, Rove is not merely Bush's "top political henchman"; he is also the president's deputy chief of staff -- a relevant distinction, given precedent for White House staffers testifying under oath before Congress. Moreover, Carville -- unlike Rove -- was not a White House staffer.
In a March 21 report on a House subcommittee's approval of subpoenas for Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, The Wall Street Journal noted:
In response to President Bush's assertion that he was trying to preserve presidential power by not having aides testify under oath and in public, Democrats issued a list of presidential advisers who have testified under such conditions before Congress, including Carter administration counsel Lloyd Culter, and Clinton White House advisers John Podesta and Harold Ickes.
Ickes, who held the same position as Rove in Clinton's White House, testified before the "opposing" Republican Congress in 1996, according to an April 2004 Congressional Research Service report:
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff, White House Office, appeared before the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the Whitewater Development Corporation and Related Matters on February 23, 1996, concerning whether White House staff had engaged in improper contacts regarding the Madison Guaranty Saving and Loan Association, the White Water Development Corporation, and other matters.
Matthews also likened Bush to "Jim Bowie at the Alamo," apparently in reference to the president's demeanor during the press conference, which Matthews had earlier described as "loaded for bear."
From the 5 p.m. ET hour of the March 20 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: It did remind me, however, of the great phrase, the infamous phrase, "Bring 'em on." He does feel he has the fight in his hands here. Is it because Gonzales is a popular figure in the Latino community? Is this about Texas loyalty? What are the fighting terms here for the president? Why is he saying, "I'm going to the mattresses over this guy. You guys are going to lose"?
ANDREA MITCHELL (NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent): I think it's Texas loyalty. He's his guy. And I think they also decided, risk-benefit, that there was more to risk by putting him up there than by getting rid of him. But I do think this White House was divided. You cannot misread the signals coming from Tony Snow and others in the White House as recently as yesterday. So there were those in the White House who wanted to let him go, but obviously, the president has now made his decision.
MATTHEWS: God, he was Jim Bowie at the Alamo tonight. I've never seen him like that, at least in a long time. Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell.
From the 7 p.m. ET hour of the March 20 edition of Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Do either one of you think there's any chance in the world that any president -- weak, Republican, Democrat, liberal, or conservative, early in the term, late in the term -- would ever let his top political henchman testify before an opposing Congress under oath? Would anybody ever let that happen?
ZUCKMAN: Oh, I don't think so, Chris. I think this is a fight that every president would take up. No one would just turn over their top political adviser.
MATTHEWS: Everybody's got hatchet men in this business -- the guy or woman they keep in the closet that does the dirty work and doesn't necessarily tell them everything, with plausible deniability, and they can do all kinds of things. But if they sit up there under the threat of perjury, which has recently been real with Scooter, I wonder.
Do you agree, Matt, there's no way any president would ever let his top person go up there?
CONTINETTI: Yeah, I don't see -- I don't think Bill Clinton would make Jim Carville go up there under oath. So I don't see this, Rove, going up there any time soon.
MATTHEWS: That would also be interesting.