Senate Judiciary Chairman says Bush officials could be prosecuted
David Edwards and John Byrne
Published: Wednesday February 11, 2009

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Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in an interview Tuesday evening that Bush Administration officials could be criminally prosecuted if they lied under oath as part of a proposed investigation into Bush-era abuses.

Leahy chose his words carefully, to be sure. But his words went slightly farther than that of other Congressional Democrats, who maintain that probing abuses of the Bush era is critical to preserving the integrity of law.

"You're going to have people, some people will say, let's go ahead and prosecute everybody," Leahy told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow Tuesday. "That can take 10 or 15 years. Others want to ignore everything. I don't agree with that."

But, he said, the Senate could set up a "truth commission" like that established by Sen. Frank Church in the 1970s, which was aimed at bringing out abuses of the President Richard Nixon era. Church's commission resulted in an array of reforms that tightened civil liberties protections after Nixon's infamous wiretapping and Watergate scandals.

"What if a truth commission did a thorough investigation of the type you're describing and they found that in fact horrible crimes were committed?" Maddow asked. "If there wouldn't be prosecution, how would say -- how would we say now we know and they all legally got away with it, how would that stop these things from happening again?"

Leahy seemed to signal a slight shift -- previously his focus seemed more on uncovering misdeeds than in prosecuting officials. While not saying that he was planning for prosecutions, he indicated that they could certainly result.

"I think because of the fact it's very, very public and the way they find out about it, it makes it very clear to the next person, you try the same thing, you are going to be found out, you are going to be prosecuted," Leahy said. "You are also going to have some people that will refuse to -- perhaps refuse to testify, even though offered immunity. With the evidence from the others, they can be prosecuted. And, of course, anybody can be prosecuted for perjury."

David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Leahy, noted that Leahy's commission concept was a proposal and no bill had yet been introduced.

"He wanted to begin a discussion," Carle said.

Asked about potential prosecutions, he reiterated that immunity would still "of course" require truthful replies.

Leahy subpoenaed Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove to testify on the firing of nine US Attorneys in 2007. Rove never appeared. He was subsequently called to testify twice by the House Judiciary Committee, and said recently that he would refuse to honor congressional subpoenas related to the case.

Leahy's commission concept received a cool response from President Barack Obama in his Tuesday night press conference, though Obama admitted he hadn't read it.

"It's not a perfect way of doing it, but it may be the only way to get the truth out," Leahy said. "And I think that the only way you're going to stop a future administration from being tempted to do some of the same things is if the truth comes out."

Immunity seems to be the keystone of Leahy's plan to extract the truth.

You "either grant enough immunity to get the truth out or you don't get it at all, because otherwise you are just going to have constant stonewalling."

Why would those who testified get immunity?

"The only way they would have immunity would be if they testified and testified thoroughly," he added. "Because they would be asked under oath, have you given us all of the information? You withhold, that's perjury and you would be prosecuted for that."

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Feb. 10, 2009.

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