Wallace failed to challenge Lott's reversal on White House aides and executive privilege
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On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Trent Lott claimed that President Bush would be "making a huge mistake" if he allows "his close advisers in the White House to testify before Congress under oath," adding: "There is a thing called executive privilege." While host Chris Wallace noted the number of Clinton administration officials who testified, he did not question Lott about his assertions then about the limitations of executive privilege: that the president should not be able to claim executive privilege unless national security considerations are involved.
On the March 25 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) claimed that President Bush would be "making a huge mistake" if he allows "his close advisers in the White House to testify before Congress under oath," adding: "There is a thing called executive privilege." Host Chris Wallace pointed out that "a lot of these Clinton aides testified under oath," referring to a Congressional Research Service study he had referenced earlier that found 31 aides to President Clinton "spoke to Congress a total of 47 times." Lott responded that "that doesn't mean it was a smart thing to do or that it should have been done." But Wallace did not raise the position on executive privilege that Lott articulated during the Clinton administration -- that the president should not be able to claim executive privilege unless national security considerations are involved.
On the March 23, 1998, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Lott -- then the Senate majority leader -- argued that the Clinton administration "made a mistake by trying to assert executive privilege when it doesn't involve national security or national interest conversations." Lott was referring to the Clinton administration's effort to keep White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal and deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey from testifying before a grand jury in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Additionally, on the March 24, 1998, edition of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, a report by Margaret Warner quoted Lott saying that Clinton made "improper use" of executive privilege; Lott also asserted, "It looks like they are hiding something, so I think they shouldn't have done it." Also, a March 2, 1998, article in The New York Times on Blumenthal's invocation of executive privilege before the grand jury noted Lott's assertion that "[i]f this White House is intent on phony claims of executive privilege as a means to hide facts from the American people, then it's going to be time for us to get off the sidelines."
Later on Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), "Doesn't it say something that here you are, you've been looking at this for weeks, you've got 3,000 documents, and there's still no 'there' there in this story?" But earlier in the program, Wallace himself had observed, "Friday night, the Justice Department released documents that showed that [Attorney General] Alberto Gonzales met with top advisers 10 days before those eight U.S. attorneys were fired to discuss the matter," and added, "This seems to contradict what he said about how far removed he was from the discussion." Wallace then aired a clip of Gonzales saying he "was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on." Yet Wallace went on to assert that "there's still no 'there' there in this story," even after noting that Gonzales had given misleading answers at his press conference.
From the March 25 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Lott about that, because you said we need to find out what really happened here.
There is, as you well know, a long history of White House aides coming up and talking before Congress. There was a congressional study that was done that showed that 31 aides spoke -- in the Clinton administration spoke to Congress a total of 47 times.
Since the president is willing to allow his aides to talk to Congress, how do you defend, or do you defend, his insistence that they testify in private, not under oath, no transcript being made?
LOTT: I believe that something could be worked out and can be worked out in that regard.
The question is, are the Democrats in the Senate interested in information or confrontation? In my mind, I think if the president would agree for his close advisers in the White House to testify before Congress under oath, he'd be making a huge mistake.
There is a thing called executive privilege. I do think President --
LOTT: Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean it was a smart thing to do or that it should have been done. I mean, I do think that presidents should pay attention to the precedents they set for their successors. Going back to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, I mean, you have a right to have executive privilege there.
Can a way be worked out to discuss with these people what happened? But, you know, in the end, eight were removed, and I assume that there was some good cause.
But frankly, if you just don't think the, you know, U.S. attorney is particularly to your liking, you ought to be able to remove him.
And by the way, the attorney general is the chief law-enforcement officer. He has, you know, a high responsibility to do that job in the Constitution. He also works at the pleasure of the president.
And that's the thing with Alberto Gonzales. As long as the president says, "I have confidence in the attorney general," he's going to stay.
WALLACE: Senator, let's follow up on this issue that Senator Lott has brought up a couple of times. Congress has been looking at this for weeks. You have received more than 3,000 documents from the White House and the Justice Department.
FEINSTEIN: I heard Senator Lott say, "Well, they shouldn't take an oath." The oath isn't that important as the transparency and the transcript is.
And you know, you saw one right now. If it hadn't been in public when the attorney general said, "I've seen no memos, I've had no discussions" -- that was a very affirmative and definitive statement. If that hadn't been in public, he would have denied it.
WALLACE: But I mean, doesn't it say something -- and we'll get back to that issue with Senator Lott. Doesn't it say something that here you are, you've been looking at this for weeks, you've got 3,000 documents, and there's still no "there" there in this story?
FEINSTEIN: The "there" there is why were they dismissed? And, you know, every day something new comes out.