News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2007


Bush looking a bit like Richard Nixon

President Bush is doing a pretty good Richard Nixon imitation with his insistence that White House aides will not testify in public and under oath about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

As the Watergate scandal unfolded three decades ago, Mr. Nixon invoked the high-sounding principle of executive privilege and claimed to be protecting the presidency (rather than himself) from having prosecutors, judges and members of Congress pry into its decision-making.

Instead of just releasing the information sought by investigators, Mr. Nixon played cat and mouse. He’d contrive various compromises that fell short of full disclosure and cooperation. For example, he offered to let Mississippi Democratic Sen. John Stennis, 72, review White House tape recordings and provide summaries to the special prosecutor.

In the end, the Supreme Court forced President Nixon to release his tapes and they showed that he had committed a crime by covering up a burglary. It was the cover-up, not the burglary, that caused Mr. Nixon to resign in disgrace.

We are not suggesting that Mr. Bush is guilty of a crime, only that he makes himself look worse than necessary in this case by pursuing his usual penchant for secrecy.

He has offered to let his minions testify behind closed doors, with no oath or transcript. Congress should not stand for that arrangement because it provides no way to hold them accountable and hides facts that both Congress and the public are entitled to know.

Maybe when the facts finally come out, they will show — as Mr. Bush’s dwindling number of defenders say — that the firings were no big deal, that the worst offense committed was playing politics. But Mr. Bush is doing himself no favors by making it appear that he is hiding something.

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