Embattled White House spokesman Tony Snow distanced himself today from earlier remarks, by dismissing reports that he was “Tony Snow.” Yesterday, in the growing uproar over the US Attorney General’s widely perceived perjury, Mr. Snow found himself stressing that Alberto Gonzales’ lies were not “lies,” but truths which looked a lot like lies because they dealt with matters of national security that ordinary Americans were not allowed to know about and hence could not understand.
Yesterday’s earnest statement – that Mr. Gonzales’ lies were not lies but complex truths – was apparently concocted whole-cloth by Tony Snow, said Tony Snow, and while he had not looked fully into the matter – and could not comment on an ongoing investigation – Mr. Snow sought to distinguish himself from the unpopular Mr. Snow. “I know that some people find Tony Snow’s defence of perjury somewhat… difficult to swallow. I know that. And I… well, I might feel the same way, if my job did not require me to not have personal feelings about this matter. But it is a mystery why so many people are asking me to comment upon Mr. Snow’s remarks.”
When confronted angrily with the commonly held notion that Mr. Snow is Mr. Snow, Mr. Snow sneered contemptuously: “This is just the sort of stunt we can expect from people who do stunts. You guys can get twisted up in semantics if you like, but America faces real problems, which require decisions, not questions. I mean didn’t we just go through this with all those questions about whether the Vice President was part of the Executive? Didn’t you get tired of asking all those? Aren’t you sick of this stuff?”
The reporters did not seem entirely willing to forego questions. “What,” asked Benny Bonnet of the Sacramento Bee, “do you make of the president’s recently issued statement, that subpoenas are merely ‘suggestions?’ That he would take subpoenas under serious consideration, but honor them only if he saw fit? In fact, didn’t you make that statement yourself?”
Mr. Snow nodded. “Yes, that was me, of course. And I don’t really want to say much more on the subject, as it looks as if this may come to a constitutional show-down. It looks as if this issue may have to be decided by the Supreme Court, which is the third branch of the Executive after Congress.”
At the increasingly raucous press conference, Mr. Snow was pressed to clarify his own precise function in the administration: he was asked whether he, for instance, was the one who spoke officially for the White House. His answer – which did not seem to satisfy everyone present – was: “It depends.”
Encouraged to elaborate, Mr. Snow explained that, “It depends upon whether the White House wishes to express something direct and obvious, such as ‘we do not torture.’ Such statements are in my purview, and I can assure you that I speak directly for the White House when I say this. Now… when you ask whether certain things constitute torture, then you’re on precarious ground, and I tend to refer such questions to Tony Snow, who may or may not speak directly for the White House, depending upon the tone of the question. Of course, when you ask such questions – and people do!” he laughed, “such questions as ‘is torture torture?’ I refer you to the relevant documents – without further comment – and then you know everything you have to know, except for things you’re not allowed to know.”
Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post, a consistent critic of the current administration, and generally dismissed as such, pressed the point: “Mr. Snow. Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario, in which you were subpoenaed by Congress, and were asked to comment on the Attorney General’s grotesque perjury. Let’s further assume that the president chose for you to comply with that subpoena. Would you yourself be committing perjury if you stood by the Attorney General’s laughable statements? And by extension, would the White House be, as it were, lying to Congress? And what if your remarks conflicted with, say, remarks before Congress made by ‘Tony Snow?’ Given that scenario, who precisely would be the bald-faced liar?”
Tony Snow, who – like White House spokesman Tony Snow – cut his teeth in the sometimes boisterous “news” division of Fox, offered a cutting response: “Do we really have to go back to the dark days… of Clintonian dithering over the meaning of the word ‘is’?” You elected a Republican administration for a reason – and that reason is, among other things, moral clarity. Okay? We know what ‘is’ is. And if you don’t, we’ll be happy to explain it to your congressmen in a closed session, as long as they don’t take notes.”
The press did not appear entirely convinced by Mr. Snow’s responses, and many reporters continued to make noises. Looking increasingly exasperated, Mr. Snow finally held up a hand. “Look, folks, we’re running out of time here. It seems you all have questions for Tony Snow, and why don’t we give him a chance to explain himself?” Mr. Snow then handed the microphone over to Mr. Snow, who explained that he would be taking no further questions.