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The Public's Right to Know

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, March 22, 2007; 1:48 PM

The most telling restriction built into the White House offer to make senior aides available for private interviews about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys is that no record of those aides' words would be allowed.

According to the offer, which has been soundly condemned by Democrats, members of Congress investigating the firings could come out of the closed-door, highly circumscribed interviews and say what they thought they heard. But there would be no transcript and no recordings.

White House officials say that the absence of a transcript is absolutely essential -- and is a reflection of their determination not to allow a friendly information-gathering session to take on the trapping of a court proceeding or political theater.

But more significantly, it would deny the public any reliable record of what was said.

It would remove the pressure from senior aides, most notably White House political guru Karl Rove, to come clean on their involvement in the firings -- while denying the public an opportunity to assess their veracity.

And it would make Congress a party to keeping important information obscured from the kind of public scrutiny that comes when journalists and bloggers have a chance to untangle the skillful evasions so common to this White House.

Especially when under fire, Bush and his aides use language with great cunning. Some observers of Bush's comments on Tuesday, for instance, could have walked away thinking he had definitively denied that partisan politics played a role in the firings. But in fact, as I wrote in yesterday's column, all Bush really said was that "there is no indication that anybody did anything improper." The existence of a transcript creates the possibility that reporters will follow up and ask him what that really means.

Elite Washington journalists are notoriously averse to doing anything that might get them labeled as liberals -- but there is nothing remotely partisan about grilling administration officials relentlessly about their resistance to creating a public record on a matter of such significance.

And there are signs today that even the most mild-mannered journalists out there may finally have run out of patience with the transparent spin of the White House PR machine.

Harry Smith v. Tony Snow

Press secretary Tony Snow, initially considered a breath of fresh air after the robotic stylings of Scott McClellan, has over time leavened his friendly glibness with disputatiousness, snappishness, and personal attacks on reporters.

This morning on CBS's Early Show, the shared contempt between Snow and his interlocutor, in this case Harry Smith, couldn't have been more obvious -- from Snow's full-body eye-roll to Smith's bitter kicker.

Here's the video.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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