Meet the Press Host Tim Russert asked the former Chittenden County State’s Attorney why he wouldn’t accept Bush White House Counsel Fred Fielding's latest offer regarding the subpoenas issued for White House officials to testify before Chairman Patrick J. Leahy's Senate Judiciary Committee.
LEAHY: Mr. Fielding is a very competent and very clever lawyer. He spent time in the Nixon White House. He knows how to say these things. But the fact is this is what the offer was:
[Fielding] said we could have some members of the president’s staff meet with a limited number of members of Congress behind closed doors on their agenda with a guarantee that there would be no oath. There’d be no transcripts and nobody would know definitively what was said and we would have to agree never to issue a subpoena for a follow-up.
Well., I said, Mr. Fielding, I would be guilty of legislative malpractice if I accepted it. And nobody has accepted it. No Republican has said that’s a good idea, no Democrat has said it.
RUSSERT: How about if they went in the meeting, agreed to a transcript and agreed to go under oath. Would that be acceptable?
LEAHY: That would be a very good start. But what I want is to be able to do the follow-up if necessary. I’m not doing this as chairman just for myself. I want to make sure the Republicans on my committee and the Democrats on my committee have a chance to hear what is said. But more importantly, that the American people know what happened.
I’ve talked with Mr. Fielding several times, but they still say we have a 'take-it-or-leave-it' offer. And it’s not an offer if you have no way of telling anybody exactly what was said.
Let me tell you, this sort of thing has gone on at the White House. We told them that we understand some of their key members there were using the Republican National Committee email account and that they had a lot of emails about how we’re going to manipulate these prosecutors around the country .
They came back and said they’ve erased those. Sorry.
I said, no, no, you can’t erase emails. They’re in the server somewhere. One of the assistant White House press secretaries said, “What’s he talking about. Is he pretending to be an IT specialist?”
The fact, is now they’ve found them. Of course, they were there. And they have these [emails].
I said, OK, where are they?
"Well, we’re looking at them."
The White House hasn’t given us anything.
I’m not trying to play gotcha. In fact, I’ll give you an example of what I’m willing to do. The attorney general [Alberto Gonzalez] is coming to testify this month before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now, the last time he came in, he said 60 or 70 times “I don’t remember or "I don’t know"or "I can’t answer.”
So what I’m proposing to do is that we send him a number of key questions from both the Democrats and the Republicans at least a week in advance . We’re giving him the questions! We’re not trying to play gotcha. Here are the questions so there can be no excuse.
RUSSERT: An open-book exam?
LEAHY: An open-book exam! [He} won’t be on "Comedy Central" the next night, saying “I don’t remember,” “I don’t remember," I don’t remember” with the little clock that went click, click, click.
RUSSERT: What if the White House does not respond to these subpoenas, invokes executive privilege?