Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bedtime for Gonzo

The testimony of the AG was a disgrace.
Not only did he say "I can't recall." over 70 times; he could not give any reason for the firing of the 7 or 8 U. S. Attorneys. We have either illegal political interference (no doubt originating in the White House) in ongoing investigations, or pure incompetence. The latter was the best defense Gonzales' supporters could come up with. Even conservative Republican senators called for him to resign.

AG A. G. struck me (I watched most of the hearing) much as Bush does when he speaks publicly: as a nincompoop.

The NY Times has an excellent editorial:

April 20, 2007

Gonzales v. Gonzales

If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.

Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.

He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes.

He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant who, if that’s possible, was even more of a plodding apparatchik. Mr. Gonzales failed to create the most rudimentary standards for judging the prosecutors’ work, except for political fealty. And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony.

Even the most loyal Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee found it impossible to throw Mr. Gonzales a lifeline. The best Orrin Hatch of Utah could do was to mutter that “I think that you’ll agree that this was poorly handled” and to suggest that Mr. Gonzales should just be forgiven. Senator Sam Brownback led Mr. Gonzales through the names of the fired attorneys, evidently hoping he would offer cogent reasons for their dismissal.

Some of his answers were merely laughable. Mr. Gonzales said one prosecutor deserved to be fired because he wrote a letter that annoyed the deputy attorney general. Another prosecutor had the gall to ask Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty. (Mr. Gonzales, of course, is famous for never reconsidering a death penalty case, no matter how powerful the arguments are.)

Mr. Gonzales criticized other fired prosecutors for “poor management,” for losing the confidence of career prosecutors and for “not having total control of the office.” With those criticisms, Mr. Gonzales was really describing his own record: he has been a poor manager who has had no control over his department and has lost the confidence of his professional staff and all Americans.

Mr. Gonzales was even unable to say who compiled the list of federal attorneys slated for firing. The man he appointed to conduct the purge, Kyle Sampson, said he had not created the list. The former head of the office that supervises the federal prosecutors, Michael Battle, said he didn’t do it, as did William Mercer, the acting associate attorney general.

Mr. Gonzales said he did not know why the eight had been on the list when it was given to him, that it had not been accompanied by any written analysis and that he had just assumed it reflected a consensus of the senior leaders of his department. At one point, Mr. Gonzales even claimed that he could not remember how the Justice Department had come to submit an amendment to the Patriot Act that allowed him to fire United States attorneys and replace them without Senate confirmation. The Senate voted to revoke that power after the current scandal broke.

At the end of the day, we were left wondering why the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer would paint himself as a bumbling fool. Perhaps it’s because the alternative is that he is not telling the truth. There is strong evidence that this purge was directed from the White House, and that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, were deeply involved.

Yesterday, Mr. Gonzales admitted that he had not been surprised by five of the names on the list because he had heard complaints about them — from Republican senators and Mr. Rove.

In another telling moment, Mr. Gonzales was asked when he had lost confidence in David Iglesias, who was fired as federal prosecutor in New Mexico. His answer was an inadvertent slip of truth.

“Mr. Iglesias lost the confidence of Senator Domenici, as I recall, in the fall of 2005,” Mr. Gonzales said. It was Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, of course, who made a wildly inappropriate phone call to Mr. Iglesias in 2006, not 2005, to ask whether charges would be filed before the election in a corruption inquiry focused on Democrats. When Mr. Iglesias said he did not think so, Mr. Domenici hung up and complained to the White House. Shortly after, Mr. Iglesias’s name was added to the firing list.

We don’t yet know whether Mr. Gonzales is merely so incompetent that he should be fired immediately, or whether he is covering something up.

But if we believe the testimony that neither he nor any other senior Justice Department official was calling the shots on the purge, then the public needs to know who was. That is why the Judiciary Committee must stick to its insistence that Mr. Rove, Ms. Miers and other White House officials testify in public and under oath and that all documents be turned over to Congress, including e-mail messages by Mr. Rove that the Republican Party has yet to produce.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

And here's another version ot the testimony (from Salon)

The attorney general's "tremendous credibility problem"

Republicans and Democrats alike pummeled Alberto Gonzales in a daylong hearing that left the future of his job in doubt.

By Michael Scherer

Apr. 20, 2007 | Here's a piece of advice for those Bush administration officials who have not yet been called to atone before Congress: When you take your seat at the long table in the marble-paneled room, just answer the questions as clearly as you can. Don't get smart. Don't talk back. Admit your mistakes. And whatever you do, don't imitate Thursday's performance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Just minutes into his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales was already pushing the wrong buttons, alternately minimizing his sins and overselling his strengths. Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican, was talking about a press conference last month, during which Gonzales said he was not involved in discussions over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, a false claim for which Gonzales has since apologized. "I know you're familiar with this record," Specter was saying, as he warmed up for a question, "because I know you've been preparing for this hearing."

Gonzales had, in fact, been preparing for weeks. But for some reason, he could not just sit still and listen. Like a fifth-grade student unable to avoid talking back to the teacher, he abruptly interrupted Specter. "I prepare for every hearing, Senator," the attorney general said. Then he took a sip of water.

Specter, who once worked as Philadelphia's district attorney, was stopped cold in his tracks. He glared down at Gonzales, who sat hunched before a microphone in an unremarkable charcoal suit and red tie. He would not let the comment pass. "Do you prepare for all your press conferences?" the senator barked, his tone suddenly combative. "You interjected that you're always prepared."

One of eight children born to two migrant workers in San Antonio, Texas, Gonzales had graduated from Harvard Law School, served as a Texas Supreme Court justice and then as the White House counsel, before taking over the Justice Department. As recently as two years ago, he was considered a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. Now he sat in a chilly Senate hearing room, sticking his foot in his mouth, while his entire career hung in the balance. The camera shutters clicked.

"I apologize," he eventually told Specter, after several aborted attempts to explain his preparations. The depths of his mistake had finally sunk in. Gonzales had picked a fight with one of the only Republicans on the panel who still expressed any sympathy for him. He had come to Congress to apologize for messing up in public statements, and here he was messing up again. "I'd like you to win this debate," Specter said, "but you're going to have to win it."

By the day's end, it was hard to see that Gonzales had won anything. The U.S. attorney scandal, which is still unraveling, appeared as likely as ever to significantly stain Gonzales' tenure at Justice, if he doesn't resign in the coming weeks. He was criticized by every Democrat on the committee, as well as most of the Republicans, who often delivered the most stinging rebukes.

"Your ability to lead the Department of Justice is in question," said Alabama's Jeff Sessions, who normally toes the White House line.

"You have a tremendous credibility problem," said South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

"We just don't have a straight story," said Iowa's Chuck Grassley.

By the time the floor was given to Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative members of the committee, everything seemed to be headed south for Gonzales. "It was handled incompetently," Coburn said about the group firing of the attorneys. "It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences."

With that, Coburn joined New Hampshire's John Sununu and Oregon's Gordon Smith to become the third Republican senator to openly call for the resignation of Gonzales. His reasoning had a simple elegance to it. Gonzales had told the committee that several of the eight U.S. attorneys had been fired for management problems. Kevin Ryan was dismissed in California for "poor management in the office," said Gonzales. Michigan's Margaret Chiara had been fired for "poor management issues, loss of confidence by career individuals." By arguing that "management" ability was the rationale for firing, Gonzales effectively laid the planks for his own gallows. "Why would we not use the same standards to judge your performance in handling this event that you applied to these same individuals," Coburn asked. The Democrats were even more direct. As Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, put it during the lunch recess, "The great irony is the U.S. attorneys being fired end up being far more qualified for their job than [Gonzales] is for his."

As it stood, Gonzales did not bring many answers with him to the committee room. He could not identify the specific individuals who had recommended firing the eight attorneys. He offered no significant insight into the role of the White House. He could not remember any details from a meeting he participated in less than five months ago. In fact, he admitted that he did not even know the reasons he fired several of the attorneys, when he signed off on the plan late last year.

Before lunchtime, he said the words "I don't recall" 39 times. Even his written statement appeared to provoke the ire of several senators. After Gonzales described his involvement in the process as "limited," Specter challenged him with the fact that there were at least five documented meetings in which he had discussed the attorneys' performance with his staff. "As we recite these, we have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright," Specter said.

Rather than concede the point, Gonzales attempted to establish that he used the word "limited" in the context of the many things he does every day. "You are talking about a series of events that occurred over approximately 700 days," Gonzales said. "I probably had thousands of conversations during that time." None of the senators seemed impressed.

Such talk has been a trademark of the Bush administration, which has always resisted admitting mistakes. But in this new era of Democratic control, there appears to be a bipartisan consensus forming that the old tactics of evasion and deflection have run their course. Since the beginning of the year, Republicans have resisted directly signing on to Democratic investigations into the White House's handling of everything from the Iraq war to global warming. But Republicans have joined with Democrats in demanding full and honest answers to their questions. As Specter explained at the end of the hearing, "Your credibility has been significantly impaired because of the panorama of responses you have made."

Gonzales' struggles on Thursday will fade soon enough from the headlines. But whatever his fate, he will not be the last Bush official to face a grilling under oath. And those who come next may find the U.S. attorneys debacle instructive: Tell the story straight, or suffer the consequences.

-- By Michael Scherer

Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reacts during closing remarks by senators at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.

On the Net:

Senate Judiciary Committee:

Good night, Gonzo.


No comments:

Post a Comment