Snow-Smith Showdown: 'You Sound Like Partisan, Not Reporter'

March 22nd, 2007 9:29 AM

UPDATES added at end of post with video link (11:08 EDT) and full transcript (12:17 EDT) as recorded by MRC/NB's Justin McCarthy.

Who needs Chuck Schumer, so long as you have Harry Smith [file photo]? Dems might well be asking themselves that this morning, after the Early Show host went after Tony Snow on the attorney firings in a manner that might have made the senior senator from New York look statesmanlike in contrast.

Things got so bad that at one point, the eminently affable Snow accused Smith of badgering him, and later suggested the CBS anchor was acting like a partisan, not a reporter. Things ended on the worst possible note, as Smith accused Snow of hiding the truth from him. See transcript below, which while complete can't convey the rancor of Smith's tone or his manifestly angry body language.
HARRY SMITH: The man out in front answering questions from the press about this is White House spokesman Tony Snow. He's with us this morning. Good morning, sir.

TONY SNOW: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: You know the news, that the House panel has authorized subpoenas. The Senate is likely to do so today. Is the White House ready to invoke executive privilege.

SNOW: Well, first, you're way ahead of the game right now, Harry. People have authorized subpoenas, they haven't served them.

SMITH: Right.

SNOW: What we're hoping is that members of the House and Senate are going to take a close look at the offer that we've made. It's going to make available to them every shred of information that they need to figure out what happened --

SMITH: Okay, let's take --

SNOW: -- In terms of the decision process.

SMITH: I think, I think the people in the House and the Senate are pretty well aware of what the deal is. And that is, basically, you've offered a chat. These guys can go- Karl Rove, Harriet Miers --

SNOW: No, wait --

SMITH: No, no, no, go down to the Hill --

SNOW: No, no, wait, Harry, Harry. First, no, what you've done is you framed the issue falsely, so let me help you out a little bit --

SMITH: Oh no, okay, let's, let's find out --

SNOW: Because the American public needs to understand what the, what the offer is.

SMITH: Okay, let's cut to the chase. Why not go down there and let these people testify under oath?

SNOW: Well, two things: First, what you're assuming is the center of action is the White House. This is a decision, a decision process that began at the Department of Justice, was executed by the Department of Justice. So the first thing you want to ask yourself is "what happened?" The Department of Justice said every key official is available. You can all go down there, you can testify under oath. The second thing is, they're going to make available any documentation and any communication anybody needs. Now what you need to understand,Harry --

SMITH: But even, but Tony, even from a cursory look at these e-mails it looks like it reaches much farther than the Justice Department.

SNOW: No, it doesn't. What it means -- if you take a look at the e-mails, Harry, it appears there were some communications like "what we're thinking about" --

SMITH: Karl Rove wasn't involved, Harriet Miers wasn't involved, come on.

SNOW: Well, no, this is, this is where -- I think what you're trying to do is create a narrative that I'm not so sure the facts are going to justify. This is why what we're trying to do is to get everybody to figure out what's the deal. So let's, let me start again because --

SMITH: Ok, no, hang on, hang on, here's --

SNOW: Please let me explain.

SMITH: The perception --

SNOW: [sigh] Harry, come on --

SMITH: No, listen --

SNOW: The perception is you're trying to badger me into creating a fight between the White House and the, the legislative branch. And what we're trying to do is something pretty extraordinary. The legislative branch has no oversight responsibility over the White House, and what we're --

SMITH: Tony, here's what it looks like is that these, these people who are, certainly serve at the, at the will of the president, or the pleasure of the president, have been kicked out for undue political influence. Even on the front page of your "Washington Post" today you have the lead prosecutor in the big tobacco case saying that the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, quote/unquote, "political interference is happening at justice across the department. When decisions are made now at the Bush attorney general's office, politics is the primary consideration. The rule of law goes out the window."

SNOW: Harry, you're sounding like a partisan rather than a reporter here. Let me -- please permit me to try to explain what's going on. Because if you take a look also,reporting in the "New York Times," what they've said is a look at the documents indicates that there is no political interference. When people have looked at the available documentary evidence in the case of the US attorney, zippo. So I think what you need to do is to stop trying to make a break for political interference and maybe do what we're asking members of Congress to do, which is figure out what the facts are.

SMITH: When it comes down, when it comes down--Here's the other thing though: When it comes down to invoking executive privilege, I want to just return to you some of the words that you wrote during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "Most of us want no part of a president who is cynical enough to use the majesty of his office to evade the one thing he is sworn to uphold, and that is the rule of law." Is that not what we're all most interested in here?

SNOW: No, what we're interested in is facts and in the rule of law. And let me again, please permit me to explain what's going on, because you've mischaracterized the offer we've made. You've put it in a slanted way and I'm shocked here --

SMITH: No, no, honestly, I have a transcript --

SNOW: Every --

SMITH: Honestly, I have a transcript from your press briefing yesterday.

SNOW: Yes.

SMITH: Why don't you allow there at least to be a transcript from this conversation you're offering to give to the members of Congress?

SNOW: But, you're looking at this through a straw. And I think the American people probably deserve to know what the offer is and the offer is this: Any shred of information anybody needs is going to be available. And what you're -- what we don't want is kind of a "Perry Mason" scene where people are hot-dogging and grand-standing and trying to score political points. If you want the truth, we're going to make the truth possible. And everybody's going to be able to find out everything. And furthermore, let me, let me make the point that I've tried to make a couple of times.

SMITH: Very quickly.

SNOW: Which is the executive branch doesn't have to do anything. But what we've decided to do is to make available any communication -- if anybody's worried about the communication the White House may have made with somebody, they're going to get it. If they're going to want to get an answer and want to get the facts from somebody, they're going to get it. What they're not going to get is the ability to create a show trial atmosphere. Because you know what? People are a little bit tired of that. And they probably would like to get the truth. Wouldn't you?

SMITH: You bet. You owe it to me.

SNOW: Good.

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UPDATE: (Ken Shepherd | 11:08 EDT): CBS's "PublicEye" blog covered the exchange. Video of the exchange provided. You can leave a comment below their post.