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So what does Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have to say about the White House's invocation of executive privilege?

Sen. Specter has supported the Democrats' rejection of the White House's offer -- private testimony by aides with no oath and no transcript -- saying that such interviews should only be conducted with a transcript.

At a press conference today, he still insisted on a transcript, but softened his stance a little, reasoning that a court battle over the White House's claim of executive privilege would drag on for years. And given that "this investigation is lagging very, very badly," he said,

I think we ought to give consideration to bringing in those individuals and finding out what we can under the president's terms. It doesn't preclude us from compulsory process and proceeding with the subpoenas at a later time.


So Specter's plan is to conduct the informal interviews offered by the White House and then get tough if need be. The thing is, the White House's offer was very clear on this point. From White House counsel Fred Fielding's letter to the House and Senate judiciary committees back in March:
Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony, or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas.


The White House has made it very clear it's all or nothing with their offer -- on their terms, exclusively on their terms, or not at all. Maybe Specter thinks they'll be able to strike a deal, and given that he speaks relatively frequently with Fielding, maybe he has good reason to think so. But the White House's actions so far don't give good reason for optimism.

An extended excerpt from Specter's remarks today are below.

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The White House is only willing to permit aides to be interviewed in private, with no oath and no transcript. To which Congress says, OK, except for the lack of a transcript. As Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) argued on the Senate floor earlier this month, they need a transcript in order to hold aides to account for lying. It's a crime to lie to investigators, but without a transcript, it becomes much more difficult to prosecute that crime.

Which, it would seem, is precisely the point. During a backgrounder with reporters today, a "senior administration official" said that the arrangement had been offered in order to "provide information, not to appear to be having testimony without having testimony." False testimony is a crime; whereas false information is, well, lamentable. Transcripts would mean testimony and that would create "a perjury trap" -- I guess in the sense that a liar might get caught.

The official continued soothingly: "misleading Congress is misleading Congress, whether it's under oath or not. And so a transcript may be convenient, but there's no intention to try to avoid telling the truth."

But for some reason, Specter, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and others just won't trust in the White House's good intentions.

While Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) hasn't "expressed a specific opinion yet on this latest development," according to spokesman John Hart, the White House-Senate Judiciary Committee showdown over the U.S. Attorney firings puts him in mind of GOP blunders with the Clinton administration. It would be better for the Democratic majority to focus on government waste than "witch hunts," in Coburn's view. Says Hart:

"Recall that Dr. Coburn is perhaps the only Senator who called for Gonzales' resignation to his face so he can't be dismissed as an administration apologist. He would rather see the Majority engage in waste hunts rather than witch hunts. If Congress spent a fraction of the time it spends on political oversight on real, objective oversight of agencies we could save the taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Also, if the Majority wants to set the standard for openness and transparency they should follow Senator Obama's lead and disclose their special interest pork-barrel requests.

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Several readers have asked how it is possible that former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL) might go to prison for 32 charges when he was acquitted on 25 of them.

I asked Nora V. Demleiter, who wrote the case book Sentencing Law and Policy and is the managing editor of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, about the legality of the judge's decision to consider all 32 charges. She said that in fact federal judges can consider those charges during sentencing thanks to the Supreme Court's 1997 decision in United States v. Watts. In that case, the Supreme Court held that as long as the government shows that the acquitted charges pass a "preponderance of evidence" standard, they can still be entered as evidence in a sentencing hearing. (This is clearly a lower hurdle to clear than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard necessary for a criminal conviction.)

So even though Siegelman was acquitted on 25 charges, that alleged conduct can still be reviewed for sentencing.

Federal investigators are continuing on Rep. Tom Feeney's (R-FL) trail. The latest pin to drop -- the FBI has asked Florida Today for a video of an interview with Feeney. During the interview, from September of last year, Feeney minimized his relationship to Jack Abramoff to the vanishing point, saying that "“My office has never done anything for Jack Abramoff” and that "he’s never asked us for anything.” (The St. Petersburg Times later found a possible exception to that.)

“We didn’t have any relationship at all with him other than he gave us a contribution" was the kicker.

Feeney, of course, accompanied Abramoff on one of his infamous golf junkets to Scotland in 2003. Feeney was one among three lawmakers on the trip -- the other two were ex-Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and Tom DeLay (R-TX).

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Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) took a filleting knife to Vice President Dick Cheney's attempts to elide the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office on the House floor just now. Following through on his promise to defund the veep's office if it doesn't comply with an executive order mandating the ISOO inspect how each executive "entity" handles classified information, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman introduced an amendment to slice funding for the vice president's office from the executive branch's budget. Watch:



Some choice excerpts:

Yesterday the vice president was forced to admit what even an eighth-grade student knew: there is no Cheney branch of government. While the vice president's excuses may change, his desire to ignore the rule remains just as strong as ever. The vice president is unwilling to risk that the documents detailing the flawed intelligence or faulty assumptions that led us into the war in Iraq [sic]. He has been held unaccountable for six years, and now he wants to be held unaccountable in the historical record as well...

If his office is not in the executive branch, then there is no executive branch office to fund. And perhaps more importantly, it underscores that the vice president is not above the law, and cannot ignore the rules. The law should follow him, whatever branch of government he chooses to hang his hat in.


Update: From Raw Story:
With limited members in the chamber, Rep. Emanuel's amendment appeared to be defeated by a voice vote. However, the bill is set to receive a recorded vote later in the day. A Democratic leadership staff member told RAW STORY that a party-line vote in favor of the amendment was expected.

Scooter Libby has a new name: inmate number 28301-016. That's according to the Bureau of Prisons, which is ready and waiting for Libby's arrival.

After losing a motion earlier this month to delay his first day in prison, Libby's currently trying a last ditch appeal before reporting to prison later this summer. If he wins, he'll remain free until an appeals court decides whether to uphold the verdict against him; if he loses, only a pardon could save him from beginning to serve his 2 1/2 year sentence.

Ed. Note: Thanks to TPM Reader HC.

The judge on Gov. Don Siegelman's (D-AL) case announced yesterday that the 25 charges a jury found Siegelman not guilty of committing are fair game during sentencing, The Birmingham News reports:

Fuller decided that charges on which Siegelman was acquitted at trial could be used in considering his sentence. Prosecutors had argued that, even though a jury did not find him guilty, there still was evidence of some wrongdoing.


The hearing continues today where prosecutors are still pressing for a 30-year prison term.

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, says it's a low-down dirty shame that the White House had to exert executive privilege over the U.S. attorneys subpoena. If only the Democrats, promulgating a "myth of wrongdoing," hadn't opted to "shred the Constitution":

“It is unfortunate that the Majority has seen fit to turn down reasonable offers of cooperation in favor of court battles that will do nothing except draw headlines and further distract the Judiciary Committee from work that needs to be done. After close to 10,000 pages of documents, dozens of interviews and testimony under oath, this investigation has not led, as the majority has speculated, to the White House. This investigation has spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work to discover politics play a part in political appointments. If the Majority had accommodated the White House in the early part of the year, we could have already interviewed these people and moved forward with the investigation.

Cannon continued, “Instead, the Majority has stonewalled and denied the Committee the ability to interview the White House staff with the intent to promulgate a myth about wrongdoing. The Majority’s stonewalling has led the American people down a path of ‘constitutional crisis’. We take an oath to defend the Constitution, not shred it.”

Here's the full statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

"This is a further shift by the Bush Administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances. This White House cannot have it both ways. They cannot stonewall congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while claiming nothing improper occurred. "

"Increasingly, the President and Vice President feel they are above the law --- in America no one is above law."


Update: More from Leahy, who says he'll "take the necessary steps to enforce our subpoenas backed by the full force of law":

More than three months ago, we rejected the White House’s “take it or leave it” offer of off-the-record, backroom interviews as unacceptable. Since that time, despite many attempts to narrow the dispute and begin to obtain the information we need, the White House has not made any effort to work with us on a voluntary basis. Instead, since that time, and again today it has merely restated its initial, unacceptable offer. Today, the White House has ended its charade of empty proposals and revealed its disdain for our system of checks and balances.



I issued the subpoenas after three months of exhausting every avenue of voluntary cooperation from this White House. Evidence gathered by the investigating Committees in the House and Senate shows that White House officials, including Karl Rove and Sara Taylor, were heavily involved in these firings and in the Justice Department’s response to congressional inquiries about them. Yet, even with a subpoena, the White House has not produced a single document or allowed even one White House official involved in these matters to be interviewed. The White House cannot ... stonewall congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while claiming nothing improper occurred.

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