Several media outlets reporting on the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote to authorize subpoenas of senior White House officials to force on-the-record testimony in the U.S. attorney investigation suggested that the vote fell along partisan lines. In fact, Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, went on record with an "aye" vote in favor of subpoenas.
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Following the Senate Judiciary Committee's March 22 vote authorizing the use of subpoenas to force on-the-record testimony of White House senior adviser Karl Rove, former White House council Harriet Miers, and other current and former White House officials in the evolving U.S. attorney scandal, several media outlets -- including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post -- suggested that the vote fell along partisan lines. For instance, on the March 22 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews characterized the subpoena vote as the "Democrats' effort to skin Karl Rove alive." In fact, Sen. Charles Grassley (IA), a Republican, went on record as having voted in favor of authorizing subpoenas.
On March 22, after the Senate Judiciary Committee granted approval by voice vote for the use of subpoenas, Grassley specifically requested that his "aye" vote be noted in the committee record, as the Los Angeles Times noted in a March 23 article:
Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, actually voted with the Democrats in favor of subpoena power and made a point of noting his vote in the record.
"I voted aye because I believe the sooner we get all these facts out, the better off we are," Grassley said, explaining that he thought the administration had been blocking legitimate information requests from both Republicans and Democrats.
Following Grassley's request, Leahy noted: "[T]he Senator from Iowa, Senator Grassley, says he wants the record to show he voted 'aye.' " Grassley also issued a press release which further explained his vote:
"I wanted to express my support for getting the facts out on the table. The sooner we do that, the better. The executive branch -- no matter who is President -- is almost always extremely resistant to oversight requests from Congress.
For example, I've been very frustrated in my efforts of the last year to get information about the Food and Drug Administration's actions with regard to an antibiotic. The FBI has continued to stonewall several of my requests.
Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight. I've worked to meet that responsibility both when the spotlight is on an issue and when it's not. Congress' inquiries need to be legitimate oversight. I want to make sure that we do the right thing for the American people."
In a March 22 article, Congressional Quarterly also noted that "Texas Republican [Sen.] John Cornyn, a strong supporter of the administration who has said he, too, would like transcripts of interviews, left before the committee voted." In a March 20 letter, the Bush administration offered to allow Rove and Miers to be interviewed, but stipulated that interviews occur in private, before a limited number of congressional members, without a transcript, and not under oath.
Yet, despite Grassley's "aye" vote, numerous media outlets cast the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote on the subpoenas as partisan, suggesting it was an action taken by Democrats alone:
- On the March 22 edition of Hardball, Matthews characterized the committee's vote as the "Democrats' effort to skin Karl Rove alive." Matthews later asked Democratic strategist Bob Shrum about "this attempt by the Democrats in Congress, especially the Senate Judiciary Committee, to basically threaten -- and they're getting very close to doing it -- to subpoena top White House aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers over this issue of why eight U.S. attorneys were sacked." Matthews further asked whether Shrum believed "the Democrats are right to make this fight."
But as NBC News correspondent David Shuster later reported on the same edition of Hardball: "The Democrats were joined by Republican Senator Charles Grassley. Several lawmakers said that getting testimony from Karl Rove and Harriet Miers under oath is the only way to get the truth."
- On the March 22 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash also ignored Grassley's vote in favor of subpoenas and stated: "[T]he Democrats making the point quite vocally that they simply think that the offer that the White House gave them to have private conversations with Karl Rove and others -- no transcripts, nothing under oath and, obviously, nothing in public -- that's not acceptable." Later, when reporting on the position of committee Republicans on the issuance of subpoenas, Bash again left out any mention of Grassley's vote, saying: "On the other side, most of the Republicans on the committee made the point that they think that even giving the chairman the authority to issue subpoenas is premature right now," adding that "many of the Republicans think that what the White House has offered, at least for now, is a good way to start to at least try to get to the bottom of the facts."
- Later, during the same edition of CNN Newsroom, while discussing the growing strain between the White House and Congress over the U.S. attorney controversy, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry reported: "[E]ven as the Democrats continue to authorize potential subpoenas here, [White House press secretary] Tony Snow add[ed] that they're not negotiating anymore, basically, that the initial offer from the White House is it." Henry did not report that Grassley also voted "to authorize potential subpoenas."
Henry later described Democrats as "complaining that the White House does not want to budge from its position, not only of no testimony under oath, no public testimony, but no transcript of any of those interviews or testimony, whatever it turns out to be."
- In a March 23 article about the committee's decision to issue the subpoenas, The Washington Post did not mention Grassley's "aye" vote, reporting that "Democrats rejected Bush's offer this week to have Rove and other advisers testify behind closed doors, not under oath and with no transcript of the meeting -- an offer administration officials called 'extraordinarily generous.' "
- During the March 22 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson introduced a segment on the U.S. attorney controversy by noting that the "Senate Judiciary Committee has now authorized subpoenas for top White House aides like Karl Rove and Harriet Miers." Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, a guest on the show, characterized the dispute over subpoenas as the Democrats versus the White House, stating: "The Democrats, of course, are hoping that he [Bush] caves." Neither Gibson nor Napolitano noted that some Senate Republicans have also said there should be transcripts of interviews conducted or that Grassley voted in favor of authorizing subpoenas.
From the March 22 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: We'll be right back with Shrummy and [Des Moines Register columnist] David Yepsen. Thank you, Doctor.
And coming up, MSNBC's Pat Buchanan is going to join our talk about the Edwards news and the Democrats' effort to skin Karl Rove alive. You're watching Hardball on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: You've bettered us all. Let me ask you about the politics here. Let's go to Shrum first about the politics and this attempt by the Democrats in Congress, especially the Senate Judiciary Committee, to basically threaten -- and they're getting very close to doing it -- to subpoena top White House aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers over this issue of why eight U.S. attorneys were sacked.
Do you think the Democrats are right to make this fight? Will they win it?
SHRUM: Sure -- well, will they win it is one thing. They were certainly right to make it and I can throw off my calmness and say what the administration has done here is outrageous.
David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, wrote an extraordinary piece in The New York Times. I think he's going to be on this show very shortly.
SHUSTER: The Democrats were joined by Republican Senator Charles Grassley. Several lawmakers said that getting testimony from Karl Rove and Harriet Miers under oath is the only way to get the truth.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): It is clear to me that we have been misled.
SHUSTER: The subpoenas will not be issued just yet. Negotiations continue with White House counsel Fred Fielding, although this morning on the Today show, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy blasted the White House position.
From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the March 22 edition of CNN Newsroom:
BASH: Hi, [correspondent] Brianna [Keilar].
And that really made it so that the Congress has dealt a double-barrel threat to the White House with this vote, a voice vote, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, authorizing subpoenas for the chairman to give to Karl Rove and other top White House officials if, in fact, he thinks it comes to that.
I say double-barrel threat because the House Judiciary Committee did the exact same thing yesterday.
Now, this, actually -- this vote came after about an hour and a half, surprisingly so, of some pretty intense sparring inside the Judiciary Committee -- the Democrats making the point quite vocally that they simply think that the offer that the White House gave them to have private conversations with Karl Rove and others -- no transcripts, nothing under oath and, obviously, nothing in public -- that's not acceptable.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT) [video clip]: No, what we're told we can get is nothing -- nothing, nothing. We're told that we can have a closed-door meeting with no transcript, not under oath, limited number of people, and the White House will determine what the agenda is. That, to me, is nothing.
BASH: Now, you saw the chairman, Patrick Leahy, getting a bit exercised there about his position.
On the other side, most of the Republicans on the committee made the point that they think that even giving the chairman the authority to issue subpoenas is premature right now, that they say that -- many of the Republicans think that what the White House has offered, at least for now, is a good way to start to at least try to get to the bottom of the facts. Of course, the facts of this -- overriding is why eight federal prosecutors were fired. Listen to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT) [video clip]: Fred Fielding has made a very good offer here. Now, as I view it, if we are really about trying to get the facts here, Fielding has offered to produce White House people here towards -- in the way he has defined in his letter. Now, that's quite a concession.
BASH: So, essentially, what you saw was some very interesting public posturing inside this hearing.
And, also, Brianna, some kind of good cop/bad cop with the Democratic chairman and his ranking Republican, Arlen Specter.
Patrick Leahy saying over and over that he heard the president, he heard the president's spokesman saying, "This is our offer. Take it or leave it," so why even bother having a counter-proposal or trying to compromise?
But Arlen Specter saying, you know, "We're all lawyers here. That's how you negotiate." So, he, actually, Senator Specter, the Republican, offered a counter-proposal of sorts. But Senator Specter said later that he hasn't actually sent that over to the White House yet. He said he's waiting for the dust to settle.
So, we're going to see how this plays out as the public posturing continues and the private discussions may go on.
HENRY: Good afternoon, Brianna.
You know, it's interesting. Tony Snow in his briefing today insisting that the White House is not spoiling for a fight, that they still think this can all be worked out and it does not have to be a showdown -- but as you noted, even as the Democrats continue to authorize potential subpoenas here, Tony Snow adding that they're not negotiating anymore, basically, that the initial offer from the White House is it. Basically, take it or leave it.
Snow saying that the White House believes Congress has no oversight over the White House directly, that they do have oversight of the Justice Department, but not the White House directly, so that this initial offer is a fair one.
SNOW [video clip]: This initial position is a significant compromise in this sense. We could have said, no, we're not going to do it. We're not going to share White House deliberations, and we could have cited any number of legal precedents.
What we have said instead is that we're going to help you assemble every document and every -- and make available every individual both at the Justice Department and the White House you need to hear from, and you'll be able to measure every single data point, every single communication.
HENRY: But a sore point still being Democrats complaining that the White House does not want to budge from its position, not only of no testimony under oath, no public testimony, but no transcript of any of those interviews or testimony, whatever it turns out to be. Tony Snow insisting today that White House staffers, if they do talk to Congress, would still be under an obligation to tell the truth, and they could be prosecuted if they lie, even if they don't take an oath.
But the bottom line is: If there's no transcript, how would a U.S. attorney prosecute that? I pressed Tony Snow on that point. He insisted a prosecutor could still prosecute by getting a he said-she said thing going, but again, that transcript issue very much a sore subject -- Brianna.
From the March 22 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: Time now for "Big Justice." It's the big subpoena showdown between President Bush and Congress and the battle over the firings of U.S. attorneys is really heating up now. The Senate Judiciary Committee has now authorized subpoenas for top White House aides like Karl Rove and Harriet Miers -- that's just one day after a House panel gave its seal of approval. If Congress follows through with actually issuing these subpoenas, what does that mean for the Bush administration?
With me now: Fox News senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano. They've called -- the White House has called the Senate and the House bluff on this. They said, "Look, we're going to let Rove come down there and talk to you, Harriet Miers come talk to you, not under oath, in private, no transcript."
GIBSON: All right, so if that is the president's right, why should he cave and have his aides go down there for a show trial?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I'm not suggesting that he should cave. The Democrats, of course, are hoping that he caves. Here's the arguments: The Democrats say, "You did this for political reasons. You did this because Republicans weren't investigating Democrats. We want to know about it."
The president's argument is, "I have the right to fire them for any reason. I have the right to discuss this with my advisers, and if you keep subpoenaing my advisers and they know that what they tell me they're going to have to tell you under oath, they'll never speak freely."
GIBSON: Is this a constitutional crisis or a political circus?
NAPOLITANO: It will become a constitutional crisis if neither side bends. If they insist on serving the subpoenas and he insists on rejecting them, then a judge will call it and the law is not on the president's side. If he sends them down to testify and gets it over with, this will pass. There's nothing to hide.
GIBSON: How long could it take?
NAPOLITANO: It could take three years or it could take three weeks. It's up to the Supreme Court.