The White House had a super-secret briefing yesterday in which they trotted out Fred Fielding, but then insisted he be referred to solely as a Senior Administration Official. Perhaps they insisted on the absurd background rules because they wanted to make Fred feel free to lie. And lie he did.
In the briefing, a journalist asked Fielding whether Bush's invocation of privilege meant that he was protecting deliberations he, personally, was involved in.
Q For any of you, I have a question about -- as a non-legal scholar. My understanding is the evolution of the law, the executive privilege, that there are basically two forms of privilege that a president can claim. And I wanted to clarify: Is the President saying, by doing this, that he himself personally was in receipt of advice about the U.S. Attorney firings, and that's why he's invoking the privilege? The documents went to him; that his staff provided him with advice, and that's what he's protecting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh no, no, that would be a misconstruction of the breadth of the executive privilege. What is related -- deliberations, formulation of advice, performance of executive branch duties consistent with the President's constitutional obligations.
Q So he is still maintaining that he had nothing to do with the actual discussions between White House staff, meaning Ms. Miers and Sara Taylor and the Justice Department related to the Attorney firings; that he had no direct involvement.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there's no change in our prior position at all.
Q But that is -- the way I've stated it is correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, state it again. I'm going to make sure -- I don't have a transcript.
Q Maybe you should get one. That would help. No -- in this case, the President is saying that he had nothing to do, directly himself, with receiving advice about the firing of the U.S. Attorneys and approving the list or adjusting the list. Just because Ms. Miers or Ms. Taylor or Scott Jennings appeared in emails with DOJ discussing that, he is asserting that there is no involvement; his personal involvement did not engage in those discussions.
Well, the question wasn't asked all that artfully, but Fielding offered a blanket denial of any involvement on the part of Bush.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He has no personal involvement. Our position has never been any different than that. [my emphasis]
No personal involvement. Except that we know Gonzales would only fire Iglesias if ordered personally by Bush. And we know that Senator Domenici spoke to Bush personally and asked him to fire the Attorney.
In the spring of 2006, Domenici told Gonzales he wanted Iglesias out.
Gonzales refused. He told Domenici he would fire Iglesias only on orders from the president.
At some point after the election last Nov. 6, Domenici called Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.
Domenici and Bush subsequently had a telephone conversation about the issue.
The conversation between Bush and Domenici occurred sometime after the election but before the firings of Iglesias and six other U.S. attorneys were announced on Dec. 7.
Iglesias' name first showed up on a Nov. 15 list of federal prosecutors who would be asked to resign. It was not on a similar list prepared in October.
As I pointed out yesterday, Paul Clement went out of his way to suggest that Bush's personal involvement would be doubly protected. I'm increasingly convinced he had something very specific in mind.