When former White House aide Sara Taylor testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) asked whether President Bush had a role in the firings. Despite being under executive privilege, Taylor stated she did not attend meetings with Bush nor did she believe he was involved in the scandal.
In today’s hearing, Leahy asked the same question to White House aide J. Scott Jennings. In contrast to Taylor, Jennings refused to answer, repeatedly citing executive privilege. In fact, Taylor answered “a number of questions that Jennings has refused to answer,” despite both being under similar assertions of executive privilege.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted the discrepancy between Taylor and Jennings’ responses and called out Jennings for abusing executive privilege. Jennings responded: “I respect [Taylor’s] decision…but I simply do not intend to disobey a directive from the President.”
Jennings’ stonewalling is an attempt to further muddle the administration’s role in the attorney scandal. As Leahy asked Taylor last month, “what is the White House so intent on hiding?”:
I do note your answer that you did not discuss these matters with the president and to the best of your knowledge he was not involved is going to make some nervous at the White House because it seriously undercuts his claim of executive privilege if he was not involved. … Your testimony today under oath bolsters that impression. And that really shows, again, that the White House counsel’s broad instruction is not only unprecedented, but it’s unsound. … This broad invocation of the notion of executive privilege to obstruct Congress from learning the truth leads one to believe it’s part of a cover-up.
Paul Kiel adds that today, Jennings wouldn’t even answer what his job description is.
DURBIN: Let me ask you a couple things. First, did you read Sara Taylor’s testimony before this committee?
JENNINGS: I watched it and then read a follow-up, yes, sir.
DURBIN: Do you know that Senator Leahy asked her the same questions that he asked of you?
Specifically, Senator Leahy asked her if she’d spoken to the president about removing U.S. attorneys, and she answered, I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys. Chairman Leahy then asked her if she attended any meeting with the president since the 2004 election in which the removal and replacement of U.S. attorneys was discussed. Ms. Taylor answered, I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed.
I’m struggling to understand how she could read the same Fielding memo that you and your attorneys have read and respond to those questions and you would refuse to respond.
Can you explain to me what the difference is in the questions asked by Chairman Leahy?
JENNINGS: I know that Ms. Taylor answered the questions. I read the transcript. And I respect her decision.
And I also know that several members of the committee criticized her for, in their view, cherry-picking or selectively answering questions during the hearing.
DURBIN: In fact, I noted that when Ms. Taylor initially refused to answer a question, Senator Specter stated, I think your declining to answer the last series of questions from the chairman was correct under the direction from the White House counsel. I do believe when you were asked whether you had a conversation with the president, that even though it does not go to the issue of content of the conversation, that it comes under the interdiction of White House counsel, which I agree that you are compelled to follow at this stage, having been an employee.
TAYLOR: Sara is a former employee. I am a current employee. And I simply do not intend to disobey a directive from the president.
DURBIN: Well, Sara Taylor was much more forthcoming. And I thought, frankly, that at the end of the day people respected her for it. She went as far as she could go without going into the substance of conversation, to at least acknowledge whether or not a conversation had taken place or a meeting had taken place. And I think that was the nature of Chairman Leahy’s question.