White House Witnesses

They've Testified Before

Sunday, March 25, 2007

President Bush said last week that he was "worried about precedents" that might be set if he allowed his top aides to testify before congressional committees about who knew what when in the fired U.S. attorneys controversy. Bush said that Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and others could discuss the issue with members of Congress behind closed doors -- and not under oath -- but no more. "I'm worried about precedents that would make it difficult for somebody to walk into the Oval Office and say, 'Mr. President, here's what's on my mind,' " Bush said.

Bush's lawyer, Fred Fielding, added in a letter to committee members: "The president must remain faithful to the fundamental interests of the presidency and the requirements of the constitutional separation of powers."

In fact, public testimony by White House aides to congressional hearings has not been rare over the years. According to a 2003 Congressional Research Service (CRS) study, White House aides have given public testimony on the Hill at least 73 times since 1944. If Bush is looking for precedents, he need look no further than the White House tenure of Bill Clinton, whose aides testified repeatedly in public hearings at the demand of the then-Republican-led Congress.

Here are some of the examples cited by the CRS:

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Jonathan Daniels, administrative assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, appeared before the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry on Feb. 28 and March 7 and 8, 1944, to discuss his involvement in the personnel policies of the Rural Electrification Administration.

Wallace H. Graham, physician to President Harry S. Truman, appeared before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on Jan. 13, 1948, to testify about information to which he might have been privy regarding the commodities market.

Bruce A. Kehrli, special assistant to President Richard M. Nixon, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities on May 17, 1973, to discuss matters related to the Watergate scandal. Kehrli had been tasked by presidential lawyer John W. Dean III to empty Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt's safe two days after the break-in and turn the material over to Dean.

Patrick J. Buchanan, a special consultant to Nixon, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities on Sept. 26, 1973, to discuss efforts by the Nixon White House in 1971 to investigate Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers.

Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's personal secretary, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities on March 22, 1974, to discuss recordings made by Nixon of his Oval Office conversations around the time of the Watergate break-in.

Alexander M. Haig Jr., senior aide to Nixon, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities on May 2 and 15, 1974, to discuss matters related to Watergate, including a $100,000 cash payment made by billionaire Howard Hughes to Nixon crony Charles G. "Bebe" Rebozo.

Leonard Garment, assistant to Nixon, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities on May 17, 1974, to discuss matters related to the Watergate incident, in particular Nixon's Oval Office tape recordings.


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