There is a possible collision between Congress and the President Bush over testimony from White House staff regarding inquiries into the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys.
Lawmakers want the staff members' testimony to be taken under oath, and transcribed. President Bush has insisted that won't happen.
Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, tells Robert Siegel, "Will members of Congress get the very facts they are requesting through the process which we have offered? And the answer to that question is, yes."
The two also spoke about how the White House will respond to potential subpoenas of Karl Rove and other White House officials.
The full text of the interview follows:
ROBERT SIEGEL: Dan Bartlett is counselor to the president, and joins us now.
Mr. Bartlett, there is a possible collision between Congress and the White House up the road over testimony from White House staff. Why shouldn't people on the White House staff, who, judging from the Justice Department e-mails, at least were aware of or took part in decisions about the U.S. attorneys — why shouldn't they testify under oath about that?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, Robert, we sure hope there doesn't have to be a confrontation with another branch of government, the legislative body here. In the proposal that was outlined by President Bush yesterday and by his counsel to the members of Congress, quite frankly, we'll be able to solve this impasse by making officials here at the White House available for interviews, make documents between the communications between the White House and the Justice Department regarding these U.S. attorneys, available for them to review.
But the question you ask there, Robert, is: Will members of Congress get the very facts they are requesting through the process which we have offered? And the answer to that question is, yes.
MR. SIEGEL: Of course it is the essence of the separation of powers that each branch gets to define its own interests and what it wants here. In the Senate, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking member of Judiciary, talked about a compromise today. He said possibly – possibly un-sworn, but still transcribed, interviews. What is the matter with the transcript?
MR. BARTLETT: Well, again, I think what the point here is – we're making is that we are making these officials available for an interview. When you start slipping down the slide of into, well, 'put it on transcript, put it under oath,' it starts having all of the trappings of a testimony. whether it be public or private. And that is where you start encroaching upon the separations of government. And this is an issue in which there has been tension between the two branches going back many, many, many years.
What I fear, Robert, is that what members of the Democratic Party who are in charge of this investigation may really be aimed at is not really, 'let's learn the facts,' but, 'hey, we have a huge political opportunity here. Let's bring up the villain himself, Karl Rove, and put him before the klieg lights here and have a big trial in which we can throw any question we want at him.' And that's really not going to serve anybody's interests –
MR. SIEGEL: Well, let's say that it came to a subpoena to Karl Rove, can you say for sure that subpoena would be refused?
MR. BARTLETT: Yes, I can.
MR. SIEGEL: White House secretary, press secretary, Tony Snow, seemed to say today that if that subpoena were issued, then the offer you are now describing that the president detailed of un-sworn, un-transcribed interviews, and White House documents, that that offer would be rejected, mooted, off the table.
MR. BARTLETT: I think the very action of issuing subpoenas would make that – would be a very formal rejection of the offer that we have provided.
MR. SIEGEL: And just to clarify that point about transcripts and an on-the-record conversation, there's a conversation – there's an on-the-record conversation, in which I can take notes as carefully as I might, and there is an on-the-record conversation that I can put a little minidisk recorder on the table, and record what you are saying and then go home and transcribe and quote accurately. Is that what the White House is proposing, that the members of Congress could come and not just take notes, but actually record the conversations with Mr. Rove or with Ms. Miers?
MR. BARTLETT: I don't think the proposal that we put forward contemplates the recording of it. But, again, there is a difference. If it's a conversation between you and I, as we are having today, you are not representing a separate branch of government. But in the proposal we have put forward, we would contemplate the fact that individuals in the meeting could take notes, but having a recording would have the same effect of having a transcript.
MR. SIEGEL: But wouldn't it be more clear — that way no one could dispute at the end of the meeting what was actually said if indeed you simply had a recording of it? I mean, that would be the guarantee of a transcript.
MR. BARTLETT: Well, there is oftentimes where there are going to be multiple people in these meetings, everybody taking copious notes. I think what would come out of that is a perfectly fine understanding of what events transpired. And Robert, I think what we're really getting at here, and I think what Democrats are more aiming at is, they're trying to pursue a criminal political pursuit of high-profile White House officials, and that seems to be a broader and much more different — and unfortunately partisan — agenda than just trying to learn what exactly happened in the removal or resignation of eight U.S. attorneys, which falls under the complete prerogative of the president of the United States.
MR. SIEGEL: Well, Dan Bartlett, thank you very much –
MR. BARTLETT: Thank you, Robert.
MR. SIEGEL: – for talking with us today. That is Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush, speaking to us from the White House.
Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.