MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The history of presidential advisers testifying on Capitol Hill is varied. Sometimes presidents have refused to allow it, other times they permitted it to happen.
NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG: It isn't common, but it's hardly a rarity either. Since 1944, some 50 presidential advisers have testified on 69 different occasions. Some of them were memorable, in Watergate and Iran-Contra. Others have long-since faded into the ethers of history: President Eisenhower's chief of staff Sherman Adams testifying about his involvement with certain lobbyists, or President Carter's White House counsel Lloyd Cutler testifying about presidential brother Billy Carter's lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.
In the Clinton administration, more than two-dozen advisers - including the president's White House counsel, political advisers and National Security adviser - all testified, some about Whitewater and some about other matters being investigated by the Republican-controlled Congress.
Perhaps the most memorable executive testimony on Capitol Hill came when President Ford testified in public before the Democratically-controlled House Judiciary Committee to explain his pardon of President Nixon. In an interview with NPR's Cokie Roberts, Ford explained why he did it.
President GERALD FORD: I have people on my staff who said: Oh, don't you go up there. I said, I have nothing to hide. So I went up, took the oath and testified for a full day before the House Committee on Judiciary, and I think that helped considerably in knocking down a lot of the criticism.
TOTENBERG: President Bush's former chief of staff, Andy Card, contends that the furor over the firing of the U.S. attorneys is different than any of the previous cases of testimony by presidential advisers.
Mr. ANDY CARD (President Bush's Former Chief of Staff): If there's an investigation for an illegal act, then I would put it into a different category. But this is clearly not anything that people presumed has been anywhere close to an illegal act.
TOTENBERG: Administration critics contend there may well have been obstruction of justice if the U.S. attorneys were fired either to prevent continued investigations of Republican office holders or because a particular U.S. attorney didn't pursue Democrats aggressively enough. And at least one of the fired U.S. attorneys has suggested just that. But Andy Card rejects that argument.
Mr. CARD: There's no evidence of that.
TOTENBERG: Former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein notes that in the past, presidents have preserved the right to resist by waving executive privilege in cases where serious questions have been raised about executive conduct. That's what President Reagan did, for example, in Iran-Contra when Fein served as research director for then-Congressman Dick Cheney and the Republicans.
Mr. BRUCE FEIN (Former Reagan Administration official): What should happen in this situation is President Bush can state to the Congress - the Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, yes, I'm waving my privilege to keep Karl Rove or Harriet Miers from testifying. And I'm going to reserve that privilege in the future, but the need for full disclosure when there's a cloud over the discharge of these eight U.S. attorneys is such that I'm insisting that the public interest would be more satisfied by full sunshine.
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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