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Friday, August 3, 2007

An uncomfortable spot between the branches

With all that has been going on lately here in Minnesota, I don't know how many of you had the chance to watch the testimony the other day of White House aide J. Scott Jennings in the ongoing U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's inquiry into the U.S. attorney firings. (Click here for the New York Times' coverage.) I caught some of it repeated late last night on C-SPAN.

Jennings is a 29-year-old with enough of a baby face to look more like he belongs in a Gerber's commercial than before a congressional committee. Yet there he was -- chubby cheeks and all -- caught in the epicenter of a power struggle between the President of the United States and the United States Congress.

The over-his-head aide was, of course, eaten alive by his senatorial inquisitors. To almost any question of substance, he consulted with his attorney and White House counsel, and then responded that he couldn't answer "pursuant to President Bush’s directive invoking executive privilege.” Jennings tried to diffuse the situation by comparing his position to being caught between Scylla and Charybdis -- and nearly got his poetic license permanently revoked with a congressional contempt citation for his lame attempt at levity.

I am not sure who deserves the most blame at here -- the executive branch for throwing a still-wet-behind-the-ears aide to the lions, or the legislative branch for dutifully being the lions. It's just hard for me to believe that things have degenerated to the point where we spend hours of congressional time on a low-quality witness like Jennings, who looks like he'd be more comfortable at a college keg party than before a congressional committee.

The executive and legislative branches need to find a way to work out this impasse so we can stop having to see hearings as useless as this one. Or maybe I just need to stop watching late-night C-SPAN ...

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