Remember last week?
Democrats were threatening to issue subpoenas of White House officials. But the White House had that killer response: Beware The Sinister Spectacle.
Press Secretary Tony Snow offered these variations on the talking point:
- “Do you want to get at the truth, or do you want to create a political spectacle?”
- “Is this pressure on transcripts and everything, is this really something where somebody thinks that there’s going to be a fact that they’re not going to receive? The answer is, no. The question is whether you are trying to create a political spectacle, rather than simply the basis of getting at the truth.”
- “If they don’t accept [our]offer, it lifts the veil on some of the motivations, which means that people are less interested in the truth than creating a political spectacle.”
- “I think you’ve always got a temptation [of] somebody sort of waving a piece of paper”
It wasn’t a terribly strong argument from the get-go.
But after yesterday’s testimony from Kyle Sampson, the White House line is even more ridiculous.
The hearing was not a spectacle, nor a theater or a circus.
It was a hearing. Senators asked questions. The witness testified. He was under oath.
We could watch. We learned some things. We have more questions. We’re a little closer to the truth.
Some call it democracy.
As it stands, the relevant House and Senate committees have authorized subpoenas of White House officials, but have not yet issued them.
Presumably, the authorization is intended as a bargaining chip to pressure the White House to agree to voluntary public testimony.
Now, coming off of a well-managed hearing, is the time to step up the pressure and force the issue.
And, to reiterate an earlier post, if that means going to court, so be it.
Earlier I announced that I was hired by the Campaign for America’s Future to help launch a new blog. Today I’m pleased to announce that the blog Common Sense is now live. (Common Sense is a project of TomPaine.com, which is a project of the Institute for America’s Future, the Campaign’s sister organization. Got that?)
As I mentioned before, I’ll be blogging at Common Sense every day, which is why I haven’t been able to blog at LiberalOasis every day. But I will continue to blog here on a regular basis, and the opinions expressed here are not those of CAF or IAF.
I’d also encourage you to register at Common Sense and partake in the comment sections that LiberalOasis has deprived you of for the last four years.
Remember, it’s not less blogging overall. It’s more blogging in more places. Enjoy!
Earlier this month, when endorsing the overall congressional Dem strategy on Iraq, LiberalOasis noted that the Senate Dem plan was “less firm” than the House Dem plan.
The House bill has a binding deadline of August 2008 to redeploy combat troops out of Iraq, while the Senate bill has a nonbinding “goal” of March 2008.
However, the Senate bill headed towards passage — after Dems defeated a GOP attempt to strip out the any goal for redeployment, and the Senate Minority Leader announced there would be no filibuster — shares the House language banning funds “made available by this or any other Act” for permanent military bases in Iraq.
That’s more important than the difference over a firm or flexible deadline when combat troops leave, especially since we’re only talking about combat troops leaving anyway.
Technically non-combat, yet still quite armed, troops can still be part of a destabilizing permanent occupation, helping White House neocons exert illegitimate influence within Iraq and beyond its borders.
But banning permanent bases is an unequivocal policy shift, ensuring the eventual withdrawal of all troops and rejecting permanent occupation.
Without the permanent bases ban in the bill, a mere “goal” would be too big a loophole.
Dubya could sign the bill, make Dems effective partners in his strategy, maintain the bases, and shrug his shoulders when the redeployment goal wasn’t met.
(Of course, a determined Dubya could try semantic moves to work around a permanent bases ban. But Dems would have oversight opportunities to expose attempts to circumvent the law.)
This is worth noting at this point for two reasons.
1) With this common ground, the eventual House-Senate conference need not become another tense, drawn-out, intra-party battle.
All factions can unify around the unequivocal rejection of permanent occupation.
2) There’s going to be a major public opinion battle after Dubya vetoes the final bill, with Republicans trying to blame Democrats for “holding up funding for the troops.”
To keep public opinion of their side, Democrats cannot be seen as low-brow “playing politics” with troops caught in the middle.
Tit-for-tat arguments (“No, you’re holding up funding!”) won’t do. They need to keep the debate on a plane of big picture importance.
They need to make clear their fight with Dubya is essential for both the security of the troops, and the success of our national security strategy.
They need to make clear that any funds should only be approved as part of a strategy for success, not for continued failure.
And only with a renouncement of permanent occupation can we dissuade Iraqis from attacking our troops, and can we achieve any diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences and win regional cooperation.
I’ll be on Air America’s The Sam Seder Show in the 9 AM ET hour this morning. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.
Last week, the GOP talking point on the Prosecutor Purge was that Dem Sen. Chuck Schumer shouldn’t be involved in the investigation because he also heads the 2008 Dem Senate campaign committee.
But that talking point didn’t stick. Mounting evidence of misleading comments from the White House and the Attorney General’s offices overshadowed a made-up conflict of interest claim.
So this week, out of rhetorical ammo, GOP senators left the talking points at home.
As the mainstream media has noted, several on the Sunday shows distanced themselves from Attorney General Gonzales.
While none directly called for his resignation, the critical comments clearly indicate that they have no interest in blindly defending him and dragging out the scandal. They’d rather dump Gonzales in hopes of moving on.
What’s unclear is if this shift means anything to President Bush, who defended Gonzales to the hilt in his weekly radio address (not to mention, this weekly radio address.)
As noted here before, Gonzales has been close to Dubya for a long time and knows where a lot of bodies are buried.
GOPers in Congress, who have to worry about their careers after 2008, don’t care much about that. But Dubya certainly does.
GOPers may also be hoping that this new pressure will prompt Gonzales to resign amicably on his own accord, resulting in no blowback for Dubya.
Beyond Gonzales, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Arlen Specter also tried to put together a mushy compromise to avoid going to court over potential subpoenas of White House officials, suggesting private interviews that would have transcripts.
But Graham and Specter can’t be endearing themselves to the White House by jabbing at Gonzales.
And Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy — surely recognizing the weak position Graham and Specter are in — rejected the idea on CBS’ Face The Nation, insisting on a public hearing with White House officials under oath.
So it’s not terribly evident on what ground Graham and Specter stand to bring about any deal.
Today at 9 AM ET, I’ll be on The Errington Thompson Show, which airs on Asheville, NC’s 880 AM. Click here to listen online.
According to the W. Post and MSNBC.com, it appears Speaker Nancy Pelosi has assembled a majority to pass the war supplemental appropriations bill that includes an firm Aug. 31, 2008 deadline for the redeployment of combat troops out of Iraq.
And less noted, but more important, it bans funds “made available by this or any other Act” to “establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.”
Everyone understands that this vote won’t end the war. Even if it clears the Senate, Dubya will constitutionally veto it or unconstitutionally ignore it.
And it certainly won’t end the debate, even though the House will be acting with the clear support of the public, which wants troops home even earlier.
There will be fierce conservative spin, along the lines of this being a cheap political vote and not a thoughtful, national security vote.
While Republicans have squandered their credibility on national security, Democrats still have something to prove. So such spin may have an impact.
In turn, it is critical not just to pass the bill, but to defend it after passage. The debate may end in the House, but it begins anew with the public.
And “Troops Home in ’08” is not enough of an argument.
A coordinated messaging effort, particularly on the Sunday shows, explaining the full Democratic foreign policy strategy is absolutely, urgently, deeply, vitally crucial.
(I’ve abused my thesaurus to do it, but hopefully the point is made.)
Dems must articulate that it’s not just about withdrawing troops.
It’s how a planned troop redeployment and renouncement of permanent bases will end suspicion of our intentions, revitalize our ability to conduct robust multilateral diplomacy, secure support from Iraq’s neighbors, resolve sectarian differences, and allow Iraqis to build a credible democracy for themselves.
That it’s far more responsible to engage diplomatically and economically while disengaging militarily, than it is to feed instability with a military escalation.
But over the next few days, if Democrats do not take care to properly explain this vote, and put it into a broader foreign policy frame, the potential power of the vote will be minimized.
Dubya says he won’t recognize congressional subpoenas of current and former White House staff directly involved in the Prosecutor Purge.
When asked yesterday if he would “go to the mat” and “take this to court” if subpoenas were issued, he said, “Absolutely.”
The proper response from Senate Dems should be: “Fine. Let’s go.”
Consider: what are the end goals of this whole effort?
The first goal is to hold people accountable for politicizing and weakening the Justice Department. This would include pressuring the president, via the grassroots, to remove those involved with the Purge from their posts.
But grassroots pressure only goes so far with a president who doesn’t care about public opinion (and doesn’t want to fire folks who know where a lot of bodies are buried.)
So while we should pursue this goal, we can’t expect to achieve it.
The second is not to scuff up Dubya.
He’s already as scuffed up as can be, and he’s not running for re-election. It only gives other Republicans a free shot to appear independent from Dubya.
The second is to further public understanding of the negative impact of conservative government.
This should be an overarching goal, to help Democrats bury conservatism as much as possible and facilitate the articulation of a liberal vision for our government.
As argued here earlier, the Purge is part of the conservative project to cripple our civil service, so we are left with a government of partisan hacks loyal to special interest and not the public interest.
If we go to court over White House subpoenas, we have a shot of achieving one or both goals.
Either the subpoenas are properly upheld by the judiciary, and everyone’s forced to testify.
That would give the public maximum information with which to press for further accountability (though again, all the pressure in the world may not achieve this goal), and also to further understand the true nature of conservative government.
Or, conservative activist judges protect the White House and nullify the subpoenas.
That may deny us accountability for White House staff, but it still gives Democrats the opportunity to expand the argument about the failure of conservatism to serve the public interest.
To be sure, one of Dubya’s goals in leaving the door open to go to court is dragging out the process and allowing media attention to wane.
Certainly that’s possible. It’s already happened with Walter Reed.
But like with Walter Reed, the damage is done. Both are recognized as a failures to serve the public.
They may not yet be widely seen as failures of conservative government, but only because not enough Democrats are tying together the myriad of Bush scandals and advancing that fundamental argument.
How eager are the Bushies to talk about anything but the Prosecutor Purge?
They’d rather talk about the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.
Yesterday, they prevented Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from going on the Sunday shows (see post below).
Instead, they dispatched Defense Secretary Bob Gates and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, in attempt to shift the media spotlight to Iraq.
But the gambit failed.
The big news from the Sunday shows was all about the Purge, not the Surge.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, on CBS’ Face The Nation, linked Carol Lam’s progress in investigating HookerGate with moves to oust her:
FEINSTEIN: …on May, I think it was May 10th, [now-purged US Attorney Carol Lam] sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants sent in the case of [former top CIA official] “Dusty” Foggo and a defense contractor.
The next day, an e-mail went from the Justice Department to the White House saying, “We have a real problem with Carol Lam.”
FEINSTEIN: Yes, really.
That sparked coverage in the Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers
And Sen. Pat Leahy, on ABC’s This Week, announced that the Judiciary Committee will be voting Thursday to issue a subpeona for Karl Rove if he does not testify voluntarily.
The NY Times reports today that it’s unclear if the White House will try to defy any subpoena of its staff.
If they do try to defy, they better figure out some better pushback that what Senate Republicans offered yesterday.
For example, Sen. John Cornyn on This Week tried to appear as if he cared about the truth, while pathetically positioning himself to vote against subpoenas:
I just want to be careful that we conduct a legitimate inquiry, and we don’t overstep into this political witch hunt environment…
Left unexplained is how compelling key players to testify, when they’re trying to duck hard questions, is somehow illegitimate.
Most of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee hold safe seats and may feel comfortable casting a defiant “No” vote on any subpoena.
But they will have to ask themselves, how will it look if every Republican votes against conducting a “legitimate inquiry,” and for allowing the White House to escape accountability?
The full Sunday Talkshow Breakshow will be forthcoming as usual, but LiberalOasis wanted to flag this early.
Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace said today:
We asked Attorney General Gonzales to come on today, but the White House declined our invitation.
To repeat, Gonzales did not accept or reject his own invitation. The White House did.
If he was truly independent of the White House and its political agenda, he would control his own schedule and media appearances.
That pretty much answers the question if our attorney general is functioning as the people’s lawyer, or the president’s lawyer.