Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rosemary Woods redux?

Wherever she is right now, Rosemary Woods must be smiling.

Documents released by the Department of Justice
detailing the decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys last fall and winter have a 16 day gap between November 15, 2006, when Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, began an email discussion with Harriet Miers, a White House legal advisor (and failed Supreme Court nominee) and December 2, 2006. The Justice Department has said there is no "lull" in communication between the two dates.

Sure.

In August 1973, the tension between the Senate committee investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up and the Nixon White House reached the first of many heads. The Senate committee ordered the White House to release tapes of President Nixon's conversations relevant to the investigation. Nixon refused, and went on television that month to explain to the American public why "executive privilege" permitted him to withhold information from Congress. This confrontation came just over a week after Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield had revealed in testimony before Congress that President Nixon had a secret taping system in the White House. In mid-October, after a great deal of wrangling, a federal court ordered the subpoenaed tapes released to the Senate.

The White House claimed that some of the subpoenaed tapes did not exist. But the most dramatic moment came when one tape suddenly went blank for 18 1/2 minutes. Nixon's secretary of 23 years (to that point), Rosemary Woods, said that she "inadvertently" erased the tapes by pressing a hand and foot device at the same time (later dubbed "the Rosemary stretch"). Her demonstration for reporters was met with skepticism, and the Senate, nor Judge John Sirica, the federal judge who presided over the Senate's battle with President Nixon, ever got a clear accounting of what was on that missing tape.

Does all this sound familiar today? Email gaps, "executive privilege," accusations by the White House of political grandstanding, White House refusal to have key aides testify under oath, congressional Republicans slowly starting to take issue with the president and his inner-circle . . .

There has got to be someone -- a John Dean, an Elliot Richardson, a William Ruckelhaus, a Mark Felt -- that feels some tinge of conscience and is ready to come clean on this White House's escapades.

This just keeps getting better and better. To paraphrase Deep Throat, keep following the email.

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