Outside editorials: On the fate of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Loyal to a fault

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This editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

One searches in vain for something in U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' biography to explain his inept, almost suicidal, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

This is a very smart man, an up-from-bootstraps American success story: impoverished childhood, Air Force Academy, Rice University, Harvard Law, the silk-stocking Houston law firm of Vinson, Elkins, through which he entered the circle around Houston's most powerful political family, the Bushes.

Gonzales became one of a cadre of Texans who surrounded George W. Bush and followed him to the White House. Gonzales' ambition was subsumed by his allegiance to Bush, who rewarded him with one prestigious appointment after another: White House counsel in Bush's first term, attorney general in his second.

If you accept that Alberto Gonzales is not a stupid man, not some sort of bumbling, absent-minded professor, then you must ask yourself why his memory is so faulty, his recollection so imprecise, his accounts so "at variance with the facts," in the words of Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

What you come back to is loyalty, and the inescapable conclusion that Gonzales was throwing himself under a bus to protect the greater good of the Bush administration. Whether that means protecting Karl Rove or others in the president's political operation won't be known until the Judiciary Committee sends Rove his own set of subpoenas.

Little support

This editorial appeared in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer:

Someday the attorney generalship of Alberto Gonzales may be little but a bad memory - in keeping with Gonzales' own powers of recollection about his role in the controversial firings of eight federal prosecutors.

The nation's top law enforcement officer cited a faulty memory more than 50 times over the course of five-plus hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. By one count he said "I don't recall" 29 times during the first 100 minutes. Gonzales' memory losses included details of key events connected to his firing of the U.S. attorneys, including a conversation in October with President Bush about three of the officials and a late-November meeting with Justice Department staff members at which the dismissals (seven were carried out on Dec. 7) were discussed.

All that left a less-than-memorable impression on Republican senators, whose support Gonzales needs to keep his job - although the decision lies with President Bush, so far a loyal supporter of his longtime Texas friend and legal adviser. On Friday, a White House spokesman called Gonzales "our No. 1 crime fighter."

Yet Bush had previously signaled that the attorney general's future was in his own hands. By that measure, Thursday's performance did nothing to enhance Gonzales' chances. Although only one of the panel's Republican senators - Tom Coburn of Oklahoma - called outright for resignation, others in the GOP went right to the brink. "You said something that struck me," observed Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, that in the matter of the fired U.S. attorneys, "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?"

To that, there wasn't much to say.

Failing to help cause

This editorial appeared in the Sacramento Bee:

It was painful to watch Attorney General Alberto Gonzales undergo grilling Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee, both for him and the nation.

With camera bulbs flashing and protesters yelling "liar" from the audience, Gonzales dodged questions for five hours. In so doing, he carried out his role as the fall guy for the administration's political machinations and confirmed our worst fears about why he helped fire eight U.S. attorneys last year.

Gonzales' challenge was to convince the Judiciary Committee that his dismissals of the U.S. attorneys was not part of a purge aimed at advancing the administration's political agendas. To do this, he needed to plausibly explain why he dismissed several respected prosecutors just as they were preparing to pursue - or not pursue - cases in which the administration had an interest.

He failed on all scores. At first, Gonzales sounded as if he cared for the reputations of the U.S. attorneys, but when given a chance, he disparaged their records, offering little evidence to back up his assessment.

Later, Gonzales acknowledged he hadn't even read the performance reports of the prosecutors before signing off on their dismissals. Early in his testimony, he agreed he was the "decider" in the firings but later backed away from responsibility. The picture that emerged was that Karl Rove, the president's political guru, was at least one of the deciders, along with certain members of Congress.

Gonzales' testimony suggests he is either an inept manager, a lackey of U.S. senators who abuse their power or an active participant in transforming the Justice Department into an arm of the White House political machine. At this point, it appears likely that the latter is the case.

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