Even though the big news event this week was the president’s nomination of Harriet Miers to replace retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, NBC’s Chris Matthews this morning, on a show that bears his name, chose to lead with Karl Rove’s upcoming testimony in front of a grand jury. To assist him, Matthews stocked his panel with the likes of Andrea Mitchell, Clarence Page, Judy Woodruff, and a lone “conservative” voice, Howard Fineman.
Of course, when Howard is the sole “right-wing” member of a panel, you’re certainly not going to get a fair and balanced discussion on any issue. As a result, what ensued was quite a Rove bash-a-thon, with dire prognostications of what the meaning of this fourth appearance in front of the grand jury could mean for Rove as well as the Bush administration.
For instance, Mitchell stated that this might be Rove’s “last shot to explain to them why [he] shouldn't be indicted. That's the kind of exit interview that this could be -- that's just speculation, but there is a lot of bad news reading into this.”
Judy Woodruff then postulated: “Now, though, there is the sense from lawyers who are looking very hard, have been talking to the whole prosecution team that they could do this under perjury. They could do it under criminal conspiracy. Or there is now this new theory where you willfully pass along information that is classified. So there are now any number of scenarios, and I think that's why they are newly worried at the White House.”
Matthews then pressed his guests about the possibility that Rove could be forced to leave his position within the administration, and finished the segment by stating, “This is huge. This is out of the movies.”
What follows is a partial transcript of this segment.
Chris: Andrea Mitchell has covered everything for NBC news. Clarence Page writes a column for the Chicago Tribune. Judy Woodruff a long time CNN anchor and correspondent and Howard Fineman is Newsweek's chief political correspondent. First up, brain drain. Could Karl Rove, the man called Bush's brain be facing serious charges in the next three weeks? He's back to the grand jury, Howard. Bad news, right?
Howard: Very bad news. People are wondering why the Bush administration seems to have lost its moorings? I think this may be the reason. Karl Rove is the brain of the administration and his brain has been focused on other things, which is the fact that the special prosecutor is going to be talking to Rove now for the fourth time. Very unusual, and has the whole town talking about what might happen.
Chris: As Denzel Washington said in "Philadelphia" explain that to my grandmother, or to me. Why is being called back to a grand jury bad news?
Andrea: It's bad news because any lawyer will tell you, and I only play one on television, is that you don't get called back and you don't go, especially when you have been told by the prosecutor that they can't guarantee you won't be indicted. You don't go for risk of perjury or something else unless this is your last shot to explain to them why you shouldn't be indicted. That's the kind of exit interview that this could be -- that's just speculation, but there is a lot of bad news reading into this.
Chris: Assuming he's in trouble on the leak case, leaking the identity of a C.I.A. Undercover agent can he throw himself to the mercy of the court? Can he say, "Please, I didn't mean to say it that way, I meant it this way"?
Judy: It's hard to say what's in the mind of the prosecutor, Chris, but originally the White house was less worried because they were looking at the prosecutor was going to have to come up with a case under the so-called intelligence identities protection act. Very difficult to make a case. Now, though, there is the sense from lawyers who are looking very hard, have been talking to the whole prosecution team that they could do this under perjury. They could do it under criminal conspiracy. Or there is now this new theory where you willfully pass along information that is classified. So there are now any number of scenarios, and I think that's why they are newly worried at the white house.
Chris: Let me ask you, Clarence, about the question. The only thing in the papers I have been reading the past couple of days and what's leaking out to different reporters, possibly a series of indictments like in the movies, another these big guys go down, Rove, Scooter Libby, and the other possibility is a stinging report, sort of a non-legal document that comes out and says a lot of dirty business done here, defaming efforts toward this guy, Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador, efforts to abuse authority, civil rights but we can't prove it.
Clarence: Unlike the early special-prosecutor law this prosecutor, Fitzgerald is not required to come out with a report if he does not indict, but he might want to considering the circumstances here, considering how much attention has been paid to this case, considering how a reporter already spent 100 days in jail, whatever it was, for her initial refusal to testify.
Chris: She's been brought back before the grand jury, Judy Miller of the times.
Clarence: And is doing it voluntarily. One of the things about this the prosecutor's manual, if you will, he can say to Karl Rove or any other top official "I won't indict you if you will leave office." That is one of the cleansing things they can do.
Chris: Can that work with an appointed thing?
Clarence: It can work with an appointed person but they say that Karl Rove would never step aside, he would not step aside even to protect the president.
Chris: But an indictment would make him step aside. He couldn't stay there, could he?