Tony Snow: 'Not much' to be gained from the testimony of Bush officials on US Attorneys
In today's daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said that not much would be gained from on the record testimony of Bush administration officials, and then threatened that the current White House deal would be "moot" if Congress went ahead and subpoenaed the officials.
"If they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn," Snow said. "It means that they have rejected the offer."
Snow also denied that the administration had adopted a "bunker mentality."
"I don't see a, quote, 'bunker mentality' when we're making officials available to both houses and to both parties, and at the same time also offering to make available an extraordinary range of communications from the White House to outside interested parties," he explained.
The White House Press Secretary said he didn't believe that an accommodation couldn't be reached and pointed out that it had only been 24 hours since the White House issued its offer. But he said no changes would be made to the White House's offer for a private, off the record conversation with Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, top White House aides fingered in the firing of US Attorneys.
"Will we change our conditions, no, but it is probably worth giving members of Congress a little bit of time to think this through," he said.
Snow said that "not much" could be gained from a transcript of the meeting, which House and Senate Judiciary Committee members are seeking, and accused them of trying "to create a court room atmosphere" around the investigation.
A full transcript of Snow's press conference is provided below.
MR. SNOW: Questions.
Q Tony, Senator Feinstein said today that the White House is in a bunker mentality, can't listen, won't change, because it won't be more forthcoming about documents and testimony. Is there any room for compromise?
MR. SNOW: Again, we've made our offer. But let me address the bunker mentality. I can't think of anything that's further from the truth. Here you have the White House having made an offer to Capitol Hill that's designed to do one thing, which is to enable the House and Senate, in reviewing decisions made on U.S. attorneys, to get at the truth and the whole truth; to make available to them key people at the U.S. Department of Justice, to have full access to e-mails there. We have already made available e-mail traffic between the White House and the Justice Department.
We have said that if they wish to pursue the path that we have laid out, we will make available to them for interviews key White House officials. We will also make available to them e-mail traffic from the White House outside Department of Justice to Senator Feinstein's office if we have any of those, and to any other interested parties on the outside.
I mean, this is -- it's really -- it's a reasonable and extraordinary effort on our part to help Congress do its job and also to do it in a way that is consistent with dignity, respect between the two branches of government, and getting at the truth.
Q What do you say to criticism that this is part of a pattern of secrecy that goes back to the early days of the administration when the -- Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force wouldn't disclose its membership?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, on that case there was a constitutional issue resolved in favor of the vice president's office.
Secondly, again, I'm sorry, but I don't see a, quote, "bunker mentality" when we're making officials available to both houses and to both parties, and at the same time also offering to make available an extraordinary range of communications from the White House to outside interested parties.
Q Tony, many lawmakers say they understand the under-oath deal of this offer but not the transcript, no-transcript deal. I mean, the president said he doesn't want the testimony of top aides to be used to score political points, but if you have senators coming out and characterizing what was said behind closed doors, don't you get into a he said/she said kind of deal?
MR. SNOW: Well, a couple of things. First, keep in mind this is not a hearing, it's not a trial, it's an interview.
The second thing is that there are going to be plenty of members there who are going to be able to listen to what administration officials -- White House officials have to say. And they are going to be plenty of different ways for people to cross-reference.
The real question is, and what you've hinted at a little bit here, Brett, is a fundamental decision members of Congress are going to have to make; do you want to get at the truth or do you want to create a political spectacle? Those are the options that are laid out.
What we think is possible is that we've come up with what we think is an amicable and respectful way to enable the House and Senate in their oversight responsibilities to get access to everything they need to understand fully the process that led to a decision to replace eight U.S attorneys.
Q So this is the final -- this is it?
MR. SNOW: Yeah.
Q But Tony, in the interest of getting at the truth and in the interest of accuracy, why not have an official, indisputable record of what was said, a transcript?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, Jonathan, you're jumping way ahead. And I think -- but let's lay out some of the things that go on. This is a decision that was made at the U.S. Department of Justice. What we have said is, all the key officials are available -- sworn testimony, whole bit. Furthermore, the e-mail traffic's available. You will also have available an exhaustive rendering of e-mail from the White House on the outside.
Now you've got the fact basis there. The question you need to ask is, what do you gain from the transcript? And the answer is, not much, because --
Q You gain accuracy.
MR. SNOW: No, no.
Q (Off mike) -- what was said, not a characterization of what was said.
MR. SNOW: No, wait.
Q But you know exactly what was said.
MR. SNOW: Well, no. What you're trying to do is to create a presumption of a hearing or a trial. And what we're saying is, no, this is an attempt to get fact.
These are in fact interviews. They will have specific fact questions. I don't know how you make this so --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SNOW: Let me finish the answer, Ed, and then I'll get to you. You start with a decision made at the U.S. Department of Justice. This is where you've got the deliberations, the analysis, all these things taking place. You have full access to everything there.
The question is, okay, do you have any further questions that may involve the White House? If so, then you also have external communications from the White House elsewhere. That ought to -- and if there are other specific questions of fact that have to deal with anything that's unresolved, you can ask. And frankly, when it comes to a fact answer, people are going to be able to get it right, just as I think you get it right when you take notes based on a conversation with me for your reporting, without the basis -- without a transcript.
Q But a question on the point that these are not actually interviews; that's your word. The senators, like Senator Leahy, say they want testimony. Testimony, there is a transcript. This is not an interview. You want it to be an interview, but it's up to the Congress. They're the ones investigating, and they say they want testimony, not interviews.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, this -- Ed, what we're doing is we're trying to be accommodating to Congress by offering them extraordinary insight into a deliberative process. You also know that everybody who goes -- the president expects everybody who talks to Congress to tell the truth, and so does the law. And they know that it would be illegal not to tell them the truth.
So the question you've got to ask yourself is, 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. This, I think, is an important and crucial distinction. Because again, I'm not sure -- I think we can say with confidence that they're going to get every fact they need to find out what's going on.
Q Are you afraid that they'll be able to go through and find inconsistencies in testimony if there's a transcript?
MR. SNOW: No, they'll be able to do it.
Q Okay. What -- you keep saying that Justice Department -- the response in these e-mails, the 3,000 pages, unprecedented, is very responsive. Why then is there this gap from mid-November to about December 4th, right before the actual firings? Why is there a gap in the e-mails?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Why don't you ask them?
Q Well, they're -- the White House, the Justice Department --
MR. SNOW: I know, but I'm not going to be the fact witness on Justice.
Q But you're the one representing that this has been very responsive. Now when there's a gap, you say go to --
MR. SNOW: Yeah, and I've been lead to believe that there's a good response for it. But I'm going to let you ask them, because they're going to have the answer.
Q Now there's one e-mail from November 15th that says, from Mr. Sampson to Harriet Miers, I believe, who will determine whether this requires the president's attention?
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q And then there's a gap in e-mails. Was there any, perhaps any e-mails about the president in there? And did the president have to sign off on this? Because the question was raised --
MR. SNOW: The president has no recollection of this ever being raised with him.
Q Tony, have you read the e-mails or been briefed on them?
MR. SNOW: I have been briefed. I have not read all 3,000 pages.
Q Tony, how would a transcript make it a political spectacle? And what about a transcript would be not in keeping with amicable and --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think you've always got a temptation, somebody sort of waving a piece of paper. Let me ask -- let me reverse the question.
Why would not an interview be conducive to getting at the facts?
Q Well, because if then the facts were then discussed, then it would be one person's word against another --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think somebody asked a straight factual question -- you're going to have witnesses from both parties and from both chambers, House and Senate. You're going to have Democrats, Republicans, House and Senate. You're going to have people there who are responsive -- and you know, if they don't think they've got it right, they can ask over and over and over till they get it precisely right. So I don't think that's a real concern.
Q But you don't have a record of these facts.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the facts -- my guess is that there will be -- people certainly are going to be open to discussing the facts that they hear.
Q Tony, the House and the Senate are both moving towards issuing subpoenas for these officials. If subpoenas are issued, is this offer withdrawn?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're just going to have to wait and see.
Q No, the offer --
MR. SNOW: The answer is, if they issue -- yeah, if they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn --
Q And then --
MR. SNOW: -- because it means that they will not have responded to the offer. They will have rejected the offer.
Q Okay. All right. Okay. And then -- so basically if they issued subpoenas, there will be no interviews; we can't --
MR. SNOW: I'm just telling you that the moment subpoenas are issued, it means that they've rejected the offer.
Q Okay. Well, wait --
MR. SNOW: Now, let me just issue a blanket statement right now, because there are going to be a lot of questions about what, if and when. It is our hope that members of Congress -- there is an important distinction between authorizing subpoenas and issuing them. And we hope members of Congress, as they have an opportunity to think this through, are going to realize that they've got a deal before them that enables them to find out what the truth is. And we are doing this in a way that is -- not only preserves presidential prerogatives but also creates an atmosphere that's going to be conducive to working together and to proceed in a manner that's dignified, thorough and accurate.
So I am not going to get in the position of if subpoena, what -- it's -- at this point it is our hope that Congress in fact is going to accept what is a generous, reasonable offer to enable them to do their jobs.
Q Tony, is the White House's position, then, that the only intransigence we see is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue?
MR. SNOW: I'm not -- I'm -- no, we're not talking about intransigence. We've --
Q That's what it sounds like.
MR. SNOW: No, no -- well, I know what it sounds like. But you -- we've had an offer that's been out for less than 24 hours. To -- let people think about it.
Q Are there talks going on to work this out?
MR. SNOW: I don't know who's picking up the phone at this juncture.
Q Did the president specifically authorize you to say that the offer would be withdrawn if subpoenas --
MR. SNOW: No, if I -- what I just said is, if the -- if subpoenas are issued, it means that they will have rejected the offer.
Q That's not the same as the president withdrawing his offer?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the offer then becomes moot; they've knocked it off the table.
Q Is there -- wait, I'm not done. Is there still room for some good-faith negotiation? The president's tone was this was reasonable, this is unprecedented, and that he wants to work with Congress --
MR. SNOW: Different negotiations -- in other words, are we going to change our conditions? No. But we also think that it probably is worth giving members of Congress a little bit of time to think this through because -- because look, we have offered everything that gets them the access to all the facts and the truth. If they don't accept the 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. And we think the American people looking at this are going to say, "Well wait a minute. The White House is making everything available to them, they're going to have all the facts. Why isn't that good enough?"
And so this is one of those calculations, as members of Congress look at it, they ought to think carefully, because we do have an opportunity to enable them to exercise their oversight thoroughly and with a level of access that is highly unusual in any White House. Look, we're reaching out. What we're trying to do is we have made not only a good-faith offer, but one that is going to give Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, a full opportunity to do their jobs and do it thoroughly.
Q Tony, just for the record, this gap between mid-November and early December, is there a gap because there are no e-mails pertaining to this situation between then, or are there more e-mails to come out between then?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know. Like I said, that's why I think you need to go back and ask the Department of Justice. They've done the document production. We have not been in charge of it. I would refer questions to them.
Q Just to follow, could you say again for the record that the president has no recollection of ever being asked about any of this?
MR. SNOW: Yeah, the removal of -- yes, that is correct.
Q In these less formal settings, though, with the presidential advisers, will the White House -- because they're not under oath -- put any kind of restriction on what they tell the members of Congress?
MR. SNOW: Again, what you're doing is you're trying to ask process questions about something that hasn't happened. Let me put it this way, this is --
Q (Off mike) --
MR. SNOW: Well, but when you say informal -- it's against the law when you're talking to Congress not to tell the truth. If there are matters that bear on conversations -- what we've also laid out are the kinds of conversations and the kinds of documents that will be available. So if somebody tries to ask a question that's out of bounds, one would presume that the person being asked would respond appropriately.
But I don't think at this point, trying to game out what's going to get asked and what's going to get answered is -- I just don't have that kind of prophetic ability.
Q Tony, Congress has held hearings from time immemorial. Presidents have even gone to testify there. What would make this a political circus?
MR. SNOW: Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?
Q These are your terms.
MR. SNOW: It doesn't -- you do not believe that there would be a political circus?
Q More so or less than any other time in history?
MR. SNOW: I think it would -- first, what have you just done is made a kind of a -- presidents go to give State of the Union Addresses.
Q But presidents have testified.
MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way. What you're talking about is a situation -- no, I'm going to step back. The idea of allowing the confidentiality of White House communications to remain that way is rooted in something that is as old as the Constitution itself, which is the separation of powers. And what we're talking about is a system that allows the president to preserve his prerogatives and at the same time create a dignified basis for moving forward.
And I'm just going to -- you know, it's interesting, because on the one hand, I get questions, what are you going to say when somebody comes to the microphone and says this, and then the other question is, well, how can you expect there to be a political --
Q (Off mike) -- hearings have gone on for a long time. They've been televised on issues (great and full ?). What makes this one more spectacle --
MR. SNOW: No, no, I don't think this makes it more of a spectacle. But I do think that this is a different -- what we've made is an extremely generous offer to make available (for its use ?) key White House officials, documents from the White House, of the Justice Department, to members of Congress, to interested outsiders. And at the same time -- you know, keep in mind that this is a decision and a decision process that was conducted at the Department of Justice, and members are going to have a full opportunity to go through that.
Everybody seems to want to jump to a White House piece; that may not even be necessary, because -- because in point of fact, there are going to be opportunities on the record and in front of cameras and everything else to be talking -- well, I don't know about cameras; I don't know what they've negotiated -- but the fact is you're going to have the ability to have key officials from the Justice Department up there answering all the questions and providing all the documents. So I think if you take a look at some of the statements that have been made, where there are attempts to single out people in the White House, it appears that there is more an effort to try to single out individuals rather than to isolate the truth.
Q Tony --
Q I'm asking you about --
MR. SNOW: I know. I just gave you the answer.
Q Tony, it looks like from both sides an impasse is in the making.
MR. SNOW: Let me respond to that, and then I'll let you finish the question.
I'm not sure. Again, I want you to understand the motivation here, which is that this is a very generous offer. I've used the term several times, and it is. We think that Congress ought to be able to find out all the facts in this case, and we have also come up with a proposal we think not only gives them all the facts but also gives them access to all the key players, so they can get every question answered to their satisfaction, so that they can draw a full conclusion.
We have laid out an offer the likes of which I don't think you've seen in quite a long time. And frankly, members of Congress need some time to think it through.
Q Again --
Q How much time?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q Again --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean, we -- if we --
Q How much time are you willing to give them?
Q Again --
MR. SNOW: As long as -- look, again, they -- this --
Q Eighteen months?
MR. SNOW: Well, you know --
Q Tony, again, as I said, it looks like an impasse in the making. Is the White House ready for this to be played out in court for a political public spectacle?
MR. SNOW: Like I said, I'm not going to bite on questions about things that haven't happened.
Q It's not a bite.
MR. SNOW: Yes, it is.
Q I mean, you just said this would be moot if they don't take the offer. You said you would reject it. So what else is left but to go to court?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, that is a decision -- the decision on such things lies not with the White House but with Congress.
Q Now, the second part to that: Was a crime committed? Yes. The reason why I say that -- because court is inevitability -- well, it's not inevitability -- it is one of those options dangled out there, and if you look back at history, what happened in Watergate --
MR. SNOW: April, April, I think that goes into the --
Q Was a crime committed? Could you say yes or no emphatically?
MR. SNOW: I don't --
Q Was a crime committed in these firings of eight U.S. attorneys?
MR. SNOW: Let me just -- look, if you take a look at all the reporting on this, there is no evidence that anything improper has taken place, period.
Q Tony, that actually goes to a question I have. Presidential aides have testified in the past when there was evidence of impropriety. April mentioned Watergate. This is a case in which the White House is asserting that there is no evidence of impropriety and that nothing was done wrong. So how do you face the American public and say, "We're telling you we didn't do anything wrong, but we won't let the top advisers to the president speak publicly about it"?
MR. SNOW: No, well, we're -- because I thought this was a fact- finding mission and a not a ratings-finding mission.
Q Well, the Congress wants testimony in public, and the Congress feels that it has been misled by the administration.
MR. SNOW: I don't --
Q How do you avoid the appearance of stonewalling if you don't send people up there to speak publicly?
MR. SNOW: I think -- well, that may be their argument, I hope it's not yours, because you have done reporting on this, and other people, in the sense of seeing thousands of pages of e-mail, responsive to a request, produced; also the White House making available communications with the Department of Justice.
Again, it is a peculiar form of stonewalling when anybody in the decision loop and any documents generated in the process of decision will be available to members of Congress. And furthermore, members of Congress will be able to interview to their satisfaction the individuals who were involved. They -- there is -- they are going to have access to all the facts, so I don't understand how that's stonewalling. It's just the opposite.
Q Well, the public doesn't have access.
MR. SNOW: The public has -- is going to have access to everything but interviews with White House officials, and there will be representations of that. They already have access to thousands of pages. They will have access to testimony from members of the Department of Justice.
What you're trying to do is to leap to conclusions about what may or may not be. I think, again, this is an extraordinarily generous offer on our part. And I think what you need to do is turn it back and ask members of Congress what it is exactly -- what fact would you not have access to?
Q Well, but I'm not asking --
MR. SNOW: What piece of data would you not have access to?
Q But, so is it the White House's position, then, that the public should be satisfied with the representations of members of Congress about what administration officials testified?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you're going to have the ability, if Congress accepts what we have offered, to get any communication -- those e-mails from the White House to the Justice Department and anybody on the outside. It seems to me that that satisfies pretty comprehensively -- again, the question is what the public wants to know is what's the truth. And we're making available every document and every individual who will allow Congress to render that judgment. And I think that's a perfectly acceptable way to do it. And furthermore, again, it not only preserves presidential prerogatives, also creates a dignified process.
And what you're suggesting is that members of Congress, then, will run out and misrepresent things after they have had an opportunity to interview members of the White House, which would mean that you're insinuating that members of Congress are going to act in something less than good faith.
Q (Off mike) -- I'm saying that it will be second-hand.
Q But, Tony, actually, on that very point. You have a transcript right here which is done for every day at this briefing because you don't want us to run out and say, "Tony said this," and someone else says, "No, Tony said that."
Why do you have a transcript of this briefing every day and you won't have a transcript of what Karl Rove is going to tell Congress?
MR. SNOW: Did you happen to see the transcript of the conversation you and I had over in the corner the other day?
Q We don't have a transcript of that.
MR. SNOW: Do you have a transcript of the conversation we have when you call me up and try to get an answer?
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SNOW: But the point here is, what you're asking for is something that is more -- you're talking about hearings -- these are interviews and these are fact-finding --
Q Again you're saying they're interviews, Tony. That's your word.
MR. SNOW: That's right.
Q Members of Congress -- like Senator Leahy said he's been hearing half-truth. He wants testimony, that's why he's talking about subpoenas, not interviews. You're saying interviews.
MR. SNOW: But Senator -- wait a minute, Ed. Do you understand that an interview still carries with it a legal requirement for telling the truth and that the president --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SNOW: Well, but that's an important point, because what you've said is a suggestion that somehow in an interview nobody would be compelled to tell the truth. They will. And furthermore, the president -- the president full expects them to do so.
Q But they want it under oath. That's what they're saying. And also, if you want -- again, why not a transcript? I don't understand. If you let the American people see exactly what people say.
MR. SNOW: Actually, I think the question to ask again -- and I'm going to turn it back around. You have all this data with you, and you're haggling over a transcript?
Q Of the actual testimony. It's one thing for people to have e-mails --
MR. SNOW: It's an interview. It's an interview. These are interviews. What you're trying to do is to create a courtroom atmosphere, and that's exactly what we're --
Q I'm not trying to create anything. The senators may be. They're doing an investigation. Talk to them. But the bottom line is they want to hear from Karl Rove and other staffers. Okay?
MR. SNOW: And they will.
Q And they want --
MR. SNOW: (Inaudible.)
Q -- a transcript.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the question is, do they want the truth and do they think they're not going to be able to get it? And the answer is, of course they're going to get the truth. They're going to get the whole truth. And so then you ask yourself why, exactly, are we talking about this kind of confrontation. What's really at the heart of this?
Let me ask you this. Do you think if we said, "You know what, we need to get the -- we need to get the internal deliberations of Senator Schumer. Who did he talk to? Who on the outside called him? What did his staff tell him? Who called the DSCC? Who decided to put up ads"
We don't do that. What we're trying to do is to preserve once again the confidentiality of White House deliberations and at the same time provide all relevant facts for members of these committees. And they're going to get it.
So it seems to me that, again, if truth is what you want, we've made the offer that allows them to get to it, period.
Q Tony, does the offer include note-taking from members of the committee, if not a formal transcript? Can they take notes?
MR. SNOW: Yeah. Yeah.
Q So depending on how good they are at that, you're saying the --
MR. SNOW: Yeah, they can (give me ?) a readout.
Q You said earlier that the president has no recollection of anyone bringing this issue up to him.
MR. SNOW: Yeah.
Q Does anyone who now or previously worked at the White House have any recollection of bringing it up to him?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of, but I -- I don't think so. But this is one, John, where -- I think this is one of those things that members of Congress are going to want to explore, and if they accept our offer, they'll be able to get an absolutely exhaustive, you know, investigation of it.
Q Tony, considering what you're going through right now, do you think it'll be anything less of a spectacle -- any less of a spectacle if it's done your way?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Tony, two quick questions.
MR. SNOW: I don't know about a press briefing, but I think the process. (Laughter.)
Q Can we stay --
Q Still the same subject.
Q We need to stay on the same subject, please.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, April.
Q You're very welcome.
MR. SNOW: Goyal?
Q It's a different question.
MR. SNOW: Actually, she's right. Let's maintain continuity here.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. Let's maintain -- we'll maintain continuity of questioning, because that is a precedent I have established.
Q When you brought up the idea of political spectacles this morning, you suggested that it's something Americans are tired of. What did you mean --
MR. SNOW: I think Americans are tired of partisanship for partisanship's sake. This is -- what we're saying is we want to cooperate with you. We want to cooperate. What we're doing is something highly unusual; we are making available to you documents that the president does not necessarily -- is not compelled to provide. We're going to make available to you staffers that the president's not compelled to provide. Why? Because we want you to be satisfied that you're getting all the facts.
The Department of Justice has pre-emptively made an offer, stepped on -- said, we're -- right up front -- we're going to make available all the key people and, in addition, we're going to make the documents available.
So I think -- you know what Americans would like to see? They would like to see this town acting in a functional way, where the first calculation is what's the truth, how do we do our jobs properly; not, you know, how do we try to score a political point?
Q What are some examples of things that Americans are tired of that have come up in the past?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into it. If you haven't heard about it, you haven't been reading your e-mail.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry; let me get Victoria, and then I'll get back to you. I want to get everybody I haven't yet.
Q Yeah, with regards to the oath, you said that they're obliged to tell the truth anyway.
MR. SNOW: Yeah.
Q And regular Americans are obliged to tell the truth anyway many times when they take oaths. What makes these people different? It seems almost as though they're the elites and they don't have to take oaths, whereas regular people have to take oaths.
MR. SNOW: You're kidding me? No.
Q No, I'm not.
MR. SNOW: I mean, I didn't have to take an oath when I did an FBI interview. I don't think every time somebody is compelled to tell the truth they have to be sworn in and take an oath.
Again, you know what you're doing is, you're missing the major point here, which is, we're making all the facts available. I mean, I don't -- I'm sort of at a loss.
Q But you're not.
MR. SNOW: Sure. Sure we are.
Q No, you're not.
MR. SNOW: Yeah.
Q You're not making internal deliberations available.
MR. SNOW: Well, that's right, because that would be inappropriate. Internal deliberations -- let me put it this way: Advice to the president would not be -- and that is a long-standing precedent. People operating as advisers to the president, those are communications that have long been kept confidential. And again, that's rooted in the separation of powers.
Q (Off mike) -- scenario that the White House envisioned -- that is, these interviews take place.
MR. SNOW: Yeah.
Q And should there be a dispute about facts, how would they be resolved in a court of law if there is no transcript?
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute. Why are you talking about a court of law?
Q Because we're talking about violations of oath to tell the truth. If there's some dispute about this and you end up in a court with --
MR. SNOW: Well, I think that's just -- that's a grotesque leap. I'm not going to budge.
Q I just want to be clear on something. On the extraordinarily generous offer, which heretofore shall be known as the EGO -- (laughter) -- so that would be withdrawn if the subpoenas --
MR. SNOW: No, what I say is, what's going to happen is that the offer gets knocked off the table, because that means it's been rejected.
Q Does that include the document production? That would be off the table?
MR. SNOW: Again, the offer is off the table. They've knocked it off the table. It means that --
Q (Off mike) -- the offer -- if subpoenas are issued, the offer is withdrawn, which is what you said earlier?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what happens is that the offer is mooted by the action of Congress.
Q So you'd go to court?
Q Are you going to withdraw it on your motion? Or are you just saying --
MR. SNOW: No, it means that the offer is gone. I mean, once that's happened, the offer --
Q (Off mike) -- you still can negotiate.
MR. SNOW: You know, what, and somebody says --
Q Tony, come on.
MR. SNOW: I just -- no, the offer is no longer operative at that moment.
Q So Tony, back when President Clinton was citing executive privilege to keep internal deliberations in that White House from being talked about in Congress, you wrote now famously that --
MR. SNOW: I'm glad it was famous. I didn't get that kind of coverage at the time. (Laughter.)
Q It's become more famous --
MR. SNOW: Oh, is it making its way through the left-wing blog?
Q It is.
Q No, no. But you spoke -- you wrote quite eloquently about this. You said, "Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold the chief executive accountable."
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q "We would have a constitutional right to a cover-up."
MR. SNOW: Right. Now let me --
Q So why were you wrong then and right now?
MR. SNOW: Because you're -- this is a not entirely analogous situation. I just told you what we have in fact offered to make available to members of Congress. What we are doing is we are holding apart confidential communications between advisers and the president, and that is pretty standard practice in White Houses. But again --
Q It wasn't with the Clinton administration.
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not so sure. And I'll let others do the legal arguing on that.
But the important point here is we're maintaining presidential prerogatives, and at the same time we're making available exhaustive -- we're offering, basically, to give them exhaustive communications that bear on this issue, and also make the key players, at least at the Justice Department and the people they said they want to hear from at the White House, they're all going to be available. That's not a cover-up, that is in fact a very open offer to get all the facts into the hands of the people who presumably want to figure out what the facts are.
Q Does Karl Rove have a private e-mail address at the RNC?
MR. SNOW: You mean does --
Q Can you find out?
MR. SNOW: Oh, yeah.
Q Thank you.
Q Tony, on the 3,000 pages that came out, that you've been referring to, from Justice a couple of nights ago, there appears to be no smoking gun showing that politics motivated the decision.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q But there also doesn't appear to be a smoking gun that these eight prosecutors overall were bad managers, that there were performance-related problems. They don't seem to detail like really bad stuff about them as prosecutors. Does that make your original claim that this was all performance-related inoperable?
MR. SNOW: Justice -- I think what -- these are precisely the kinds of questions that testimony from the Justice Department is designed to answer on Capitol Hill. And on Capitol Hill they're going to have an opportunity to answer it.
Q But you've been saying these 3,000 pages were so responsive. Why not in those 3,000 pages -- why are we not finding all kinds of, wow, these prosecutors really were bad, they didn't their job.
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know. Again, that is -- what you're asking me to tell you, Ed, is what happened over at the Department of Justice. I think that's what Congress is rightly interested in. And the president has made it clear, and the attorney general has made it clear, they'll have an opportunity to get an answer to that and other questions. I mean it's a great question, but it's one that Congress will have an opportunity to get a full answer to.
Q Tony, not to beat this dead horse, but you're saying that if the subpoenas are issued, that the action will not be by the White House. You're saying the action will be the subpoenas --
MR. SNOW: Yeah, that they've rejected our offer. Yeah.
Q Not your original quote, which, "If they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn?"
MR. SNOW: Well, I think it moots the offer.
Q Another subject?
MR. SNOW: Well, do we have others or can we --
Q Actually, I have two quick ones. First on the attorneys and the White House e-mails. Are you saying that those will not be released until an agreement is reached?
MR. SNOW: Let's -- I like the tone of the question for this reason. We're still hoping that we get a resolution so that the House and Senate accept this offer, and then everybody can go about the business of finding out what the truth is.
Q You're not in the process right now?
MR. SNOW: I'm not in the process of playing what if.
Q You're not in the process of releasing the e-mails either, right?
MR. SNOW: Not at this juncture.
Q No. Okay. Second, 3,000 e-mails you characterize them as very generous and all this. In your briefing -- I don't know if you were told, but I've made my way through about half of them, and they're -- probably half of it is just repetitious documents, transcripts.
MR. SNOW: Right. Well, I think what you see there are e-mail chains, and quite often when people attach e-mails -- what you're talking about in repetitious -- you can't -- if you're going to provide that information, you can't say, well, you know, I'll just give you the top piece of the e-mail. And so what they've done is they've given you the e-mail chain, which starts with one and then two and then three and then four. So in that sense, absolutely, it's repetitious. But again, the effort was made at the Department of Justice to figure out what's responsive to the request. I apologize if some of it's boring. E-mail sometimes has that quality.
Q Tony, with this ever-growing story, I mean, originally, it started out with voter fraud. Is that still the impetus for all of this?
MR. SNOW: It started with voter fraud? What?
Q Yeah, looking -- oh, you don't know what happened?
MR. SNOW: No, there have been a number of concerns that were expressed at the Department of Justice, and that is going to be the subject of hearings on Capitol Hill.
Q No, no, no. But did it start with the investigation into the fact that voter fraud was not investigated fully by many of the prosecutors --
MR. SNOW: Again, what -- no, what you're referring to is a single case. This kind of forensics is precisely the sort of thing that Congress will have an opportunity to investigate.
Q Tony, finally, two questions. One, is the president being informed or briefed or is he concerned about the massive protests going on in Pakistan against General Musharraf or the firing of lawyers and chief justice of the supreme court of Pakistan?
There is great concern over there.
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know precisely how the briefing goes, but I certainly know that the National Security Council is aware. And again, it is not our custom, Goyal, to read out intelligence briefings.
Q Second. As far as the AG Gonzales is concerned and also the FBI and law enforcement authorities in the U.S., do you think president would give credit to AG Gonzales and the FBI or the Justice Department as far as keeping the homeland secure since 9/11? But also, are we still living under the fear of terrorism? Because there have been a number of arrests and convictions in the U.S. Federal District Court in Alexandria.
MR. SNOW: We're constantly concerned about terrorism. We should not cease to be. It is pretty clear the terrorists want to continue making life -- they want to try to continue to commit acts of terror, and we want to do what we can to intercept them and prevent them.
Q How about the credit goes to the Justice Department?
MR. SNOW: I think what -- look, there are any number of departments and agencies. The credit goes to a lot of hardworking people who are trying to keep this country safe.
Q Tony, two questions. Republican Congressman Tom Davis said, quote, "The president spent billions of dollars to bring democracy to Baghdad, and threatens to veto a bill bringing democracy to the free world." And my question: Does the White House know of any Tom Davis effort to obtain House votes for Puerto Rico, which has so many more people than Washington, D.C."
MR. SNOW: I'm unaware. It's an intriguing question.
Q Thank you. How does the president believe that any member of Congress can vote for a full congressional seat for D.C. but none for Puerto Rico without being reasonably adjudged as anti-Hispanic- American?
MR. SNOW: You know, the president has a very fertile mind. I'm not sure that that's something that would naturally occur while he's thinking about other issues.
Q Just to follow up on one point earlier.
MR. SNOW: Yeah.
Q Yesterday the president said, and you repeated, that the principle at stake here was executive privilege, is that the president needs to get candid advice from his advisers. Right?
MR. SNOW: What the president has talked about is privileged communications with close staff members, that is correct.
Q When you talked to me earlier, you were saying that -- when I asked about well, was the president informed of this decision, did the president sign-off on the U.S. attorneys being fired, you said the president has no recollection of being informed of all this.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q So were his advisers really advising him on this, or is this really privileged communication involving the president and his advisers if the president wasn't looped in, you're saying, on this decision. So were other people --
MR. SNOW: Well, that's -- that also falls into the "intriguing question" category.
Q Well -- but I mean --
MR. SNOW: No, you're asking -- you're asking me to -- look, Ed, there are a number of complex legal considerations in here and I'm not going to try to play junior lawyer. These are the sort of things that people are going to have an opportunity to talk about.
Q Well, you have it both ways. You're saying the president wasn't in the loop --
MR. SNOW: No --
Q -- but you just cite executive privilege for the president's communications.
MR. SNOW: No, what you are saying is are conversations that didn't take place privileged? Well, no, they didn't take place.
Q So what are you protecting?
MR. SNOW: No, we're not -- what we're trying to do is to protect the ability of the American people see folks in Washington get at the truth without, in fact, engaging in the kind of unseemly partisanship that has too often been a factor in recent political life.
Q Tony, the president said yesterday, "We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants."
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Does the president feel as though Karl and his other top aides are being unfairly targeted in some way, singled out? Is he feeling sort of like he needs, in a way, to protect them from --
MR. SNOW: No, I think what the president's really trying to do is to protect the integrity of the institution.
Q But he seems to be particularly concerned about those "honorable public servants."
MR. SNOW: Actually, I think the people probably who are -- seem to be most concerned are people on the other side of Pennsylvanian Avenue.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q Tony, one --
MR. SNOW: We'll do this on the side.