While Democrats and Republicans spar over the meaning and consequences of the U.S. Attorney purge at the Justice Department, I find myself wondering not about either of these things, but has gone so wrong that any public servant thinks testifying before Congress is ever a bad or undesirable idea.
A number of current and former people at Justice have been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Attempts to convince other White House aids to testify voluntarily appear to have failed, and may end in a legal standoff between the two branches of government.
What interests me the most isn't why the Attorney's were fired, or what Democrats motives for pursuing the matter may be. Right now, I find myself struck by the complete disrespect that Attorney General Gonzales and other White House staff are showing, and the terrible example they are setting, by refusing to testify before Congress voluntarily.
If you put aside the political differences and under most circumstances, people are invited to testify because they can contribute a unique understanding and knowledge to lawmakers that understandably are not going to be experts in the fields that they often regulate.
To be asked to stand before them and do so willingly is an achievement and statement of character. They want the information you have, and you are serving the public by giving it to Congress.
Though there are times such as this when you may not want to participate, you still have an obligation to help lawmakers do their jobs. To refuse when asked is an insult to what I still consider a prestigious institution that has given us what we have today.
The excuses for such disrespect are few, but no one should ever fear testifying under oath -- unless perhaps telling the truth may have negative consequences for you both personally and professionally.
The argument that executive privilege allows members of the executive branch to escape Congressional accountability in my mind is secondary right now. This is just another in a series of controversy's that the Bush administration could do without, and there is little doubt that cooperation between the White House and Congress would serve only to bring this situation to a quick and clean conclusion, whatever it may be.
If the administration and AG Gonzales truly believe they were within their legal rights to fire the Attorney's, they should be jumping at the opportunity to testify before Congress to clear their names and defend their actions. Taking cheap shots at Democrats in the press is immature and unconstructive, something this country needs less of right now.
The fear of being caught in a lie, I suppose, can be quite powerful. Especially with the Vice President's Chief of Staff having been convicted of lying to federal investigators recently, perhaps Republicans and the administration think their best play is to not say anything at all, even if it means disrespecting an entire branch of government, and possibly violating federal law in the process.
It's easy to step back and say that if no one in the administration has done anything wrong, then they have nothing to worry about when testifying under oath before Congress -- and then to use that as circumstantial proof that they have in fact done something wrong, and are trying to cover it up.
Not only is that unfair, it's the first step down the road to virtual persecution. I won't support that kind of logic.
There is a great deal of pressure on AG Gonzales to resign by Democrats in Congress, and a handful of Republicans as well. Public polls appear to indicate that Americans are not keen on the thought of politicians playing games with the U.S. justice system.
Though Republicans have been attempting to deflect criticism by arguing that the Clinton administration replaced every U.S. Attorney during the Presidents first term, this situation appears to be different in that these Attorney's were fired in direct response to their actions in on-going criminal investigations, which would raise the stakes from politicking to possible obstruction of justice.
That claim is currently unsubstantiated, and will remain that way until administration officials agree -- or are forced -- to testify. If and when that will happen is anyones guess, but Democrats in the Senate have set a firm date of Thursday to vote on issuing subpoenas for Karl Rove and other White House aids including former counsel and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, who recently resigned over this scandal.
With all of this going on, I find myself incredibly disappointed that the White House refuses to do the professional and respectful thing, and testify voluntarily. I expect so much more from our elected leaders, yet they always seem to come up short when it comes to playing things straight.
It is a sad day when obstructionism and lies have become the norm that we can expect from our government.