By Jay Carney
In Washington, scandals metastasize, growing and changing until we can’t remember what they were about in the beginning. A bungled burglary became a cancer on the presidency, forcing Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace. A money-losing Arkansas real estate deal led to Monica, a blue dress and Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Already, the furor over the dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys has shifted focus from the crass but essentially routine exercise of political patronage to the essential project of George W. Bush’s presidency: its deliberate and aggressive efforts to expand and protect Executive power.
Which is why divining the true motives behind the dismissals is only part of the battle under way in Washington. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have spent six years expanding presidential powers at the expense of Congress and the judiciary, from authorizing domestic wiretapping to limiting habeas corpus and changing bills through signing statements. Democrats, in control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in 12 years, are determined to reclaim what they can. And the U.S. Attorneys case gives them powerful new ammunition.
Just getting Karl Rove and other top White House officials to testify could be as important as anything they might say, since it would set a precedent of sorts as Democrats push to investigate internal White House deliberations on everything from Iraq-war contracting to the use of prewar intelligence. Bush is resisting, offering to give only limited interviews with lawmakers with no transcript. Anything more than that, he says, would be an infringement on presidential privilege.