Take the Twenty Bucks

An old joke:

An attractive, well-dressed man walks into a bar and spies an equally attractive young lady. They strike up a conversation and after a few drinks and pleasantries, he says, “Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?”

“Of course,” she purrs.

“Okay, well, then, how about for twenty bucks?”

“Of course not!” she replies indignantly, “what do you think I am?”

“We’ve already established that,” he says. “Now we’re just negotiating the price.

I was reminded of that old chestnut when I heard the White House is refusing to negotiate with Congress over their offer to let Karl Rove and Harriet Miers talk to them in private, without being under oath, and without a transcript. The White House says take it or leave it, and they’re refusing to budge.

The White House knew from the moment they made the offer that Congress wouldn’t go for it. It’s a demeaning proposal, and they compounded it by calling it “extremely generous.” How many different ways could they come up with to insult Congress, and the American people in the bargain? My guess is that we’re about to find out.

The smart move would have been for the White House to say no to allowing Rove et al to speak to Congress from the git-go; to turn down the million dollars, as it were. Once they opened the door, they left little room to back out without looking like they’re either caving in to Congress or being disingenuous by making an offer that they really didn’t intend to follow through on.

Now they’re stuck. The White House can’t cite executive privilege because that ship sailed when they came out with their offer; letting Rove and Miers talk to Congress under any circumstances takes that off the table. (Besides, it’s been established that executive privilege doesn’t apply to conversations between aides in the White House; only to conversations with the president.) Second, they have a public relations disaster on their hands in the person of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who can’t get through a day without coughing up the ball; in an interview on NBC he said he didn’t remember a meeting in the Oval Office where President Bush supposedly passed along complaints about the U.S. attorneys going after too many Republicans and not enough Democrats. He doesn’t remember a meeting in the Oval Office? No one kept any notes? And finally, even if there was nothing at all improper about the firings of the eight prosecutors, putting up this smoke-screen makes it look breathtakingly suspicious; what are they afraid of? As the Republicans were so fond of saying when the warrantless wiretaps were revealed, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

So the Congress has called their bluff. They’re going to issue subpoenas, they’re going to be served, there’s going to be a court battle, and the White House is probably going to lose because in their infinite wisdom, the Republicans beat the crap out of the White House for fighting subpoenas during the Clinton administration. And even if they win, it will still look bad; when this is all over, the DOJ will look like just another third-world Ministry of Justice that takes care of its friends and persecutes its enemies, and Mr. Gonzales comes out of this looking like another incompetent Bush administration toady. Heckuvajob, Fredo.

They should have just taken the twenty bucks.

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