In a fervid exchange between Attorney General John Ashcroft and members of the Senate Judicial Committee, Ashcroft came close to claiming the 5th over memos that were requested from the Justice Department. PBS’s Online Newshour has the transcript in “Torture Argument”:
SEN. LEAHY: Has or has not been any order directed from the president with respect to interrogation of detainees, prisoners or combatants, yes or no?
ATTN. GEN. ASHCROFT: I’m not in a position to answer that question.
SEN. LEAHY: Does that mean because you don’t know, or you don’t want to answer? I don’t understand?
ATTN. GEN. ASHCROFT: The answer to that question is yes.
ATTN. GEN. ASHCROFT: I have not invoked anything. I have just explained to you why I am not turning over the documents.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, D-Del.: Thank you very much. Well, General, that means you may be in contempt of Congress then. You got to have a reason not to answer our questions, as you know from you sitting up here. There may be a rationale for executive privilege that misses the point, but — but, you know, you have to have a reason. You are not allowed, under our Constitution, not to answer our questions. And that ain’t — that ain’t constitutional.
Ashcroft refused to turn over memos, yet did not invoke executive privilege, instead opting to bluff his way through with the excuse that “to provide this kind of information would impair the ability of advice-giving in the Executive Branch to be candid, forthright, thorough, and accurate”. It’s ass-covering at the highest level, and Ashcroft is well aware that if he had wrongly invoked executive privilege (and been found out later), he could be in more trouble than simply bluffing his way through it. I’m surprised none of the Senators had the wherewithall to simply call him in contempt, since his answer is in itself a rebuke of an open government.
Torture Argument [PBS’s Online Newshour]