Face the Nation had the best show of the weekend, managing to squeeze into one tight half hour interviews with one of the fired assistant United States attorneys, two of the senators leading the investigation into the Justice Department, the New York Times's best columnist, and the head of the insurgent Capitol Hill publication the Politico.
First up was the fired attorney, Bud Cummins, who reinforced the idea that this is not a case of broken laws but of bruised egos:
Well, what they did is they tried to tell the Senate, when the Senate asked them . . . why did you make these unprecedented decisions regarding the United States attorneys, and they have told the United States Senate that they were trying to improve management in the districts and that there were performance issues. And all of us knew that that wasn't true, and--and all the evidence since has shown that the--whatever went on behind the scenes to arrive at these eight decisions was probably petty, maybe personal, and probably had some politics involved in it. But performance wasn't on the table in a respectable way, in the process, when it occurred.
Senator Patrick Leahy followed Cummins, telling Bob Schieffer "You know, this is--our founders devised this system of checks and balances. This administration has been used to going unchecked. The balances kicked in last November, and they're going to have to deal with that reality." Lindsey Graham was up next, discussing his uncertainty about the constitutionality of forcing the president's inner circle to testify:
There are two issues here: what, what happened in these cases, and we need to get to the bottom of it. The big issue constitutionally is how much can Congress get into the bowels of the White House and listen to how the president was advised about hiring and firing? We're co-equal branches of the government. The attorney general says he will come under oath. Everyone in the Justice Department, who's been requested, voluntarily will come. Three thousand documents have--has been released. But if you start subpoenaing the advisers to the president about firing and hiring and getting into the Karl Rove/Harriet Miers under oath deal, you're going to go to court.
The real scandal, though, may be on the Hill, rather than at the White House. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM) placed a phone call to one of the fired attorneys inquiring about a case. While not illegal, it is a blatant violation of the Congress's ethics rules, and Leahy was quite emphatic about that.
It's totally out of order. I mean, during the years that I was a prosecutor, if an elected official called me and told me to prosecute somebody or not to prosecute somebody, I would have just hung up the phone on them. I would not allow that kind of political pressure in my office as a prosecutor.
For a primer, check out this post from the Washington Post's Capitol Briefing blog.
David Brooks offered the Bush administration some handy advice:
Well, first, he should look in and say, 'what happened to these attorney generals, while not illegal, is not the way we want our government to run, and we're going to fire some people about this.' And the second thing he should do, politically, is say, 'They're going to talk about scandals, I'm going to talk about health care. I'm going to talk about education.' He should be policy centric while the Democrats are scandal centric. That's the way Clinton did it, and it actually happened to work for him.
The Politico's Jim VandeHei predicted that the White House and Senate would reach a compromise on testimony:
I think there's going to have to be a compromise that includes being something under oath, and there also has to be something where there's a transcript. This idea that you're not going to have a transcript of the conversation, when the question is whether you can trust what we're hearing from the White House right now, I think is a nonstarter for Democrats, and a nonstarter for a lot of Republicans now, too.
On Meet the Press, two more of the fired U.S. Attorneys were interviewed, and Tim Russert inquired what they would ask if they were able to question members of the Justice Department when they appear before the Senate. John McKay, aware that Senate hearings are less an opportunity to ask questions than make grandiloquent statements, responded:
Well, I think it's important that the attorney general of the United States understand that his job is not simply to serve as a--as a member of the Cabinet of the president or as a close adviser to the president, but rather to lead a, a very important independent function in the government, and that is the immense power wielded by the prosecutorial capacity of the federal government. I think that the culture of the Justice Department, the tradition of leadership at the Justice Department in almost every case has been that that individual understands their role is distinct from that of the White House.
David Iglesias actually formulated a question:
I'd want to know if he agrees with the findings of the Congressional Research Service that found that, in the past 25 years, out of 468 U.S. attorneys confirmed by the Senate only ten left involuntarily. Whether or not he regards what happened to us in December to be a break from the past, and, if so, was it justified? Of those ten, virtually every one of those was due to misconduct. So, in my view, this represents a tremendous departure from historical practice. How does he justify that?
On This Week, the roundtable discussed the political implications of John Edwards's decision to continue his campaign after his wife had been diagnosed with a serious recurrence of breast cancer. "There is no question that presidents, it's part of the risk of life, that you can elect a president that then has distracting private sorrows," George Will said, noting that "Lincoln lost a child in the White House, as did Calvin Coolidge, but that's no reason for saying that if you have a private distraction, a private grief, a private sorrow, you can't serve in public office." Sam Donaldson was not so sure this was the right move for the North Carolinian's presidential aspirations. "From a political standpoint, I don't think it's going to cut in their favor."
Sonny Bunch is assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.