Wednesday, April 18, 2007

WH: Everything Is Covered By Executive Privilege!

The Virginia Tech massacre has taken Attorney General Gonzales and the Prosecutor Purge from the front pages, but things are still happening behind the scenes:

WASHINGTON - President Bush's lawyers told the Republican National Committee on Tuesday not to turn over to Congress any e-mails related to the firings last year of eight U.S. attorneys before showing them to the White House.

Democrats and Republican critics of the administration said the move suggests that the White House is seeking to develop a strategy to block the release of the non-government e-mails to congressional investigators by arguing that they're covered by executive privilege and not subject to review.

Party officials declined comment, but a GOP aide familiar with the negotiations said the RNC would comply with the White House request.

In a related development, the House Judiciary Committee plans to grant immunity to a former Justice Department liaison to the White House to force her to tell Congress what she knew about the firings. A vote to grant Monica Goodling "use immunity" could come as early as Thursday. Goodling had refused to testify and said she would invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., who'd asked the RNC to turn over any applicable e-mails by week's end, characterized the White House's stance as an "extreme and unnecessary" effort to block or slow the release of the e-mails.

Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration Justice Department official who's been critical of the administration and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said the existence of the RNC e-mails is worrisome for the White House.

"The situation is very awkward for the administration because they don't know exactly what e-mails are there. What does seem very clear is that the e-mails did concern government business, which would include firing U.S. attorneys. Otherwise there would be no plausible claim," he said.

The White House wants a stonewall built around these emails by claiming executive privilege for them and the Republican National Committee, ever the good servants of Bush, Rove and Cheney, are happy to comply.

But here's a problem for them:

For the White House to claim executive privilege on the RNC emails, they have to admit that government business was being done in these communications, a clear violation of the federal records preservation rules which state that government business must only be conducted in government documents that get preserved for posterity (and possible oversight.)

How do they plausibly argue this case in court - yes, we broke the rules about how government business is conducted and records are preserved, but no matter, those correspondences are covered by executive privilege anyway?

Would even "loyal Bushies" like Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas buy this argument?

It seems unlikely to me.

We have heard from the geniuses on cable TV that the White House will probably win this showdown over executive privilege with the Congress (because the geniuses on cable TV ALWAYS think the White House is going to win everything), but as the scandal continues to break, it seems less likely that is the case in this matter.

Everything is not covered by executive privilege - especially not communications at the RNC.

You get the feeling that if the Bush WH had the problems of the Clinton WH, they would claim both Monica's dress AND the stain were covered by executive privilege.

Which clearly would not be the case.

(Thanks to Abi for the inspiration for the post)

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