Free Dartmouth
The US Attorney Scandal: Bush Just Doesn't Get It
4/23/2007 12:06:00 PM | Nathan Empsall

You may have seen the President’s (very brief) speech and press conference from the Oval Office this morning – a presentation from General Petraeus, a brief pep talk on Iraq and two questions from the press corps. The second question was about AG Alberto Gonzales’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony last week concerning the firings of 8 U.S. attorneys last week. The President’s answer proved, once again, that he lives in a bubble and just plain doesn’t get it.

Following the disastrous testimony, just about everyone in politics knew the Attorney General was finished. My guess is picking the date he leaves is the most popular DC parlor game right now. Gonzales lost almost every ally he has left – except for one. Bush said, "The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer — honestly answer — in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job.” INCREASED? This hearing killed Gonzales, and yet it INCREASED Bush’s confidence in him? If you didn’t catch the hearing, read the following and ask yourself if that makes any sense.

Gonzales’s testimony was a disaster. Not only did he fail to clear up inconsistencies in prior statements, he made more, using the phrase “I don’t recall,” or something to its effect, over 70 times. He could not remember talking to the President about the U.S. attorney scandal. He couldn’t remember if he ever discussed firing special investigator Patrick Fitzgerald. He couldn’t remember where the idea of firing the attorneys originated. While he insisted he remembered that he remembered deciding to fire the U.S. attorneys, he could not recall when or where the decision was made.
Leahy: “Well, how can you be sure you made the decision?”
Gonzales: “Senator, I recall making the decision from this — I recall making the decision.”
Leahy: “When?”
An exasperated Gonzales: “Senator. I don’t recall when the decision was made.”

The Attorney General also said, "At the end of the day I know I did not do anything improper." In other words, I have no clue what I did, and neither do you, but I know it was all ok, so what’s the big deal? *Ahem.*

At another point, Gonzales said, “While reasonable people might decide things differently, my decision to ask for the resignations of these U.S. attorneys is justified.” Yes, sir, it was – it was a stupid decision, but one that falls within the powers of your office. Tell me, however: was your decision to lie about the resignations justified? Was telling us it WASN’T your decision when it clearly was justified? Was telling us the White House wasn’t involved when it was justified? Was telling us the firings were performance-based when they were actually political justified? This isn’t about the initial action anymore, it’s about the lies, and the incompetent Gonzales just doesn’t get it. Senator Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) zinger was the best of the day: “At the end of the day, you said something that struck me: that sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time. If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?" Gonzales replied by talking about things unrelated to the U.S. attorney firings.

Overall, Gonzales came across as unprepared, incompetent, defensive, and downright arrogant. The hearing resulted in new criticisms and new calls for his resignation (like the one from Sen. Tom Coburn, who believes all doctors who perform abortions should get the death penalty).

And yet, the President says his confidence is Gonzales is even stronger because of the testimony. He also said, "As the hearings went forward, it was clear the attorney general broke no law, there's no wrongdoing.” Claiming it’s only wrong if it’s illegal is a pet peeve of mine. Clinton’s affairs weren’t illegal, but they were wrong, and Bush would say so. What a hypocrite: Gonzales lied to the press, and he lied to lawmakers in one-on-one meetings. That’s wrong, plain and simple. He may not have done anything illegal, but he did do something unethical. He lied. And if he didn’t lie, he’s even more incompetent than Rumsfeld ever was. Either way, this scandal is dragging down morale at the Justice Department, and Gonzales has lost the confidence of just about every one on Capitol Hill, including Republican Senators John Sununu, Gordon Smith, Tom Coburn, and apparently, Lindsay Graham, Arlen Specter, Chuck Grassley, and Jeff Sessions.

Eisenhower had a rule: loyalty to the nation was more important than personal loyalty. If only Bush were that wise. You don’t have to break the law to lose effectiveness, and you don’t have to break the law in order to justify resignation. Gonzales is hurting the administration and the country, but given his arrogant insistence upon personal loyalty, Bush just doesn’t get it.

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