GMA Wonders If White House Can Survive ‘Constitutional Showdown’ Over Attorneys
Wednesday’s "Good Morning America" continued its hyperbolic, Democratic-friendly coverage of the scandal revolving around the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys and President Bush’s announcement that White House officials such as Karl Rove would not be testifying under oath on the subject.
An ABC graphic described the disagreement between the White House and Congress as a "constitutional showdown." Co-host Diane Sawyer asserted that Bush was "double-daring the Democrats in Congress," while fellow host Robin Roberts wondered if the White House could even survive more revelations.
The first report, which aired at 7:02am on March 21, featured ABC reporter Jessica Yellin derisively using the "decider" nickname to describe President Bush:
ABC Graphic: "Constitutional Showdown"
Diane Sawyer: "This morning: showdown. President Bush throws a gauntlet to the Democrats in Congress, refusing to let Karl Rove testify under oath about the firing of the federal prosecutors. Is the next stop the Supreme Court?"
Diane Sawyer: "But first, let us turn to that lead story which is the showdown in Washington. The President double-daring the Democrats in Congress and it’s over the question, the big votes today in the House and Senate on subpoenas for White House officials like Karl Rove to testify under oath. The President defiantly says no testimony under oath and White House correspondent Jessica Yellin has a ringside seat for this particular clash. Jessica."
ABC Graphic: "Bush Defiant on Attorney Firings: Dems Want Rove Testimony Under Oath"
Jessica Yellin: "Good morning, Diane. The issue today, can White House officials be forced to testify before Congress? President Bush is digging his heels in and he's ready for a fight. To Democrats who want to put Karl Rove under oath and before the cameras, he says it's not gonna happen. The man who calls himself the decider sounded defiant."
President Bush: "I hope they don't choose confrontation. I will oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials."
Yellin: "Instead, he said Karl Rove and other White House officials will be available to answer Congress' questions about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, but only if they're questioned behind closed doors and not under oath."
Bush: "It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials."
Yellin: "That's just not good enough for congressional Democrats."
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI): "We are disappointed. And I think, I think that may be an understatement."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY): "No transcript? No oath? No public testimony? What are we hiding?
Bush: "We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants."
Yellin: "In what he called an extraordinary move, Mr. Bush promised to turn over many White House e-mails related to the U.S. Attorney firings. And appearing as angry as he had in a long time, he insisted he's standing by the Attorney General and maintained no one broke the law."
Bush: "There is no indication that anybody did anything improper."
Yellin: "But the Democrats don't want to take the President's word for that. They want to subpoena Karl Rove and others. And the House plans to vote on that today. Robin?"
In the second report, "This Week" host, and former Clinton administration official, George Stephanopoulos appeared to discuss the issue. Just last week, Stephanopoulos predicted that Gonzales would soon resign. On Wednesday however, it was GMA anchor Robin Roberts who forecasted doom. She wondered if the White House could even survive more "firestorms":
Robin Roberts: "All right, Jessica. And we go straight to ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos for more on this. And George, we heard in Jessica’s piece that of course the President is going to allow Karl Rove to be interviewed by congressional investigators but Democrats want much more than this then we saw in Jessica’s piece. Why is that?"
George Stephanopoulos: "Well, they say, if, if Karl Rove and other White House officials are prepared to tell the truth, what's the matter with taking an oath? And, of course, there’s also some politics involved here, Robin They do want that public testimony. So, they're going to push today, as Jessica said, the first votes on the subpoenas will happen in the House today. They're likely to happen in the Senate tomorrow, which could set up a confrontation that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. It can also set up, though, a compromise, Robin. I think you see, between the lines, the possibility of one where there is private testimony by Karl Rove and others but a transcript is taken and it is under oath."
Roberts: "Of course, a lot of pressure on the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. And the President has come out defending him. Is that enough to keep his job?"
Stephanopoulos: "For now. It's going to buy the Attorney General some time, enough time, perhaps, to get to the hearings and try to explain himself. But, Robin, he still has precious little support on Capitol Hill. You do not have any Republican Senators, any Republican members of Congress, willing to come out and support him right now. They're going to wait and see how he does in these hearings. They're also going to try to protect Karl Rove for at least a time. Their fear is that, at least in the White House, is that, if that if they go to, if they get rid of Attorney General Gonzales too quickly, Democrats are going to smell blood and go straight at the White House."
Roberts: "Quickly, George. How many firestorms like this can this White House survive?"
Stephanopoulos: "That is the question. You've had the Scooter Libby trial. You’ve had the Walter Reed scandal. What the President was trying to do yesterday is show that he’s willing to fight, because if he doesn’t, he’s afraid the Democrats are going to going to come up with a one a week."
Very few people would argue that the events over the last few weeks have been positive for the White House, but "Good Morning America" has certainly been a willing participant in providing Democratic spin on unfolding events.
In contrast, when A Democrat was in the White House, ABC News didn't find congressional investigations quite so compelling. This is how, in April of 1997, then "World News Tonight" anchor Peter Jennings described a GOP Congress looking at Democratic improprieties:
Peter Jennings: "When we come back, two investigations of fundraising abuse, two of them on Capitol Hill. Is it a waste of time and money?"
John Cochran: "....But they don't want to get together. The easy-going Thompson, who may have presidential aspirations, says it's important to be as tough on Republicans as Democrats....But Dan Burton is a hard-charging partisan and has resisted investigating anyone but Democrats....So although Congress complains a lot about too much duplication in government, we'll be seeing double when the House and Senate begin months of dueling hearings into campaign fundraising."
-- ABC's April 10, 1997 World News Tonight.
In July of that same year, ABC reporter Linda Douglass covered an investigation into illegal contributions to Democrats by wondering if the American public is "paying attention to any of this":
"...Democrats gripe that the hearings are too partisan, so next week the committee will focus on foreign contributions to Republicans, all the while wondering if the public is paying attention to any of this. Linda Douglass, ABC News, on Capitol Hill." -- End of July 18, 1997 World News Tonight story.