White House counsel C. Boyden Gray was taken to the woodshed today, receiving a high-level rebuke for raising public doubts about the deal President Bush struck with Congress on policy in Central America.
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Gray met with White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and then with Bush to discuss his weekend decision to take his concerns to the New York Times rather than raise them in private.
“I would say that all the appropriate discussions have been commenced and completed with Mr. Gray, and he fully understands our position,” Fitzwater told reporters.
‘How Things Work’
Asked if Sununu had reprimanded Gray for violating Bush’s admonition against airing policy differences in public, Fitzwater smiled and said, “Oh, they had a polite discussion about how things work in the White House.”
While attending today’s annual Easter egg roll on the south lawn of the White House, Bush was asked if he was angry with Gray. He smiled, looked up at sunny skies and replied, “On a day like this, I’m not angry at anybody.”
Fitzwater’s comments amounted to a rare public rebuke of another senior White House official. The press secretary was asked whether Gray had been told that he should work through proper channels instead of taking his complaints to the press.
“I don’t know that they did tell him that,” Fitzwater said. “I think that’s a good idea. I’d tell him that.”
Over the weekend, Gray told the New York Times of his concern that the agreement reached last week on Central America policy constituted a surrender of presidential power to Congress in the conduct of foreign affairs.
The plan calls for the United States to keep humanitarian aid flowing to the Contras through next February at the rate of about $4.5 million a month and to help disband and relocate the rebels at that time if the Marxist-led Sandinista regime in Nicaragua undertakes promised democratic reforms.
However, in a concession Secretary of State James A. Baker III was forced to accept to nail down the bipartisan deal, the aid could continue past Nov. 30 only with the expressed approval of four congressional committees.
Apparently irked that he was not consulted in advance about the accord, Gray said he had “reservations” about that de facto legislative veto, which if spelled out in law would be unconstitutional under a principle embraced by 11 Presidents and reaffirmed in 1983 by the Supreme Court.
Asked why Gray would have felt that the agreement had not received proper legal review, Fitzwater replied, “I just can’t tell you what was in Boyden Gray’s mind. That’s more than I can handle.”
Gray’s on-the-record remarks, widely reported after receiving front page treatment Sunday, placed him publicly at odds with Baker for a second time for reasons many Administration officials were at a loss to explain.
Moreover, his decision to argue his case in the newspaper rather than in private undermined a determined effort by Bush to make his Administration the picture of public unity.