Getting Worse for Gonzales and his Justice Department

The Attorney General of the United States is caught in a political and legal vise of logic. The harder he tries to wiggle out of it the more squeezed he becomes and the more uncomfortable we all should feel about his continued presence as the nation's top lawyer.

Even though it makes perfect sense to presume that the head of the Justice Department would have been closely involved in a decision to fire eight federal prosecutors-- how many bosses aren't closely involved in decisions to fire their most important employees?-- if Alberto R. Gonzales now concedes that he was intimately involved in the decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys last fall he will directly contradict his early statements on the matter. He will be branded a liar (but not a fink) and his career in public service almost certainly will end despite the support he apparently still continues to have from his patron, President George W. Bush.

But if when he tries to distance himself from the scandal, as he did during a lengthy interview yesterday with NBC's wonderful Pete Williams, he comes off either as a failing, flailing leader or downright unbelievable. His dilemma is entirely of his own doing, of course, but he sounds each day more and more like Nero while the Justice Department he is supposed to lead burns down around him. On Monday, the flames were about as high as they have been since this fiasco erupted a few weeks ago.

First, Monica Goodling, a White House liaison at the Justice Department, decided that she would invoke her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination if and when she is asked to testify before Congress as part of its investigation into this mess. I don't blame her in the least. She senses a sinking ship when she sees one and whether she is a good rat or a bad rat she is rightly looking out for herself. To me, the most interesting aspect of her move Monday is not that she has decided to protect herself but that she apparently decided to do so without coordinating her strategy with the Justice Department. You reap what you sow.

In the meantime, on Thursday we await the congressional testimony of Kyle Sampson, the Attorney General's former chief of staff. Unlike Goodling, Sampson says for now that he is going to lay it all out for the legislators. We'll see how far he is willing to fall upon his sword for the good of these leaders who chucked him so quickly a few weeks ago. And that brings us to the Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, who somehow still clings to his job despite being intimately involved in the worst aspects of this controversy. Apparently it was McNulty who told Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he was poorly served by his subordinates-- a betrayal that Goodling reasonably took as a bad sign. The common front at Justice clearly is crumbling-- the natural result of a lack of leadership.

Which brings us back to the leader of this fine group of honor-laden bureaucrats, Gonzales, who is trying gamely but lamely to convince us all that a duck is not a duck. When asked Monday by Pete Williams to explain his role in the firings. Gonzales said: "When I said on March 13th that I wasn't involved, what I meant was that I had not been involved, was not involved in the deliberations over whether or not United States Attorneys should resign.... I was never focused on specific concerns about United States Attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign. I was more focused on identify-- or making sure that the White House was appropriately advised of the progress of our review. And I was also concerned to ensure that the appropriate Department of Justice officials, people who knew about the performance of United States Attorneys, that they were involved in the process.... Now, of course, ultimately at the end of the process or near the end of the process, the recommendations were presented to me."

Gonzales continued: "There had been a lot of work done to review the performance of these United States Attorneys. And recommendations were presented to me that reflected the recommendations of Kyle Sampson and of others in the department. And so there was obviously a discussion with respect to that recommendation.And, of course having decided there will be changes, there was a discussion about how do we implement this change? And so that is, in essence, the context of my involvement and the substance of my comments on March 13th."

Got that? Good, because if you do you are probably the only person in America outside of the Justice Department who either understands or buys that explanation. I am actually willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe Gonzales when he says he was completely out of the loop-- at least as far as the details go. But that convinces me even more that this guy is not fit to lead the Justice Department. If you can't even muster the interest and the responsibility and the courage to help tackle the sensitive job of determining which of your loyal U.S. Attorneys ought to be dismissed (in the absence of any malfeasance on their part), you simply don't deserve the job of Attorney General.

By Andrew Cohen |  March 26, 2007; 10:32 PM ET agag
Previous: Going After The Gang That Couldn't Fire Straight | Next: Time Out From Gonzales for an anti-MLB Rant


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Perhaps a little water-boarding would help Mr Gonzales to be a little more forthright.

Or wouldn't it be ironic if he was finally forced out on the basis of warrantless wiretaps from his 'Cloudshield' device.

Posted by: Richard | March 27, 2007 09:28 AM

It's just the latest controversy for Sutton, Gonzales and the Bush administration's direction of the Justice Department. Earlier, Sutton's decisions to prosecute two Border Patrol agents and Deputy Sheriff Gil Hernandez were criticized as having been influenced by the intervention of the Mexican government.

Posted by: | March 27, 2007 09:30 AM

In the Texas Youth Commission scandal, Texas Ranger official Burzynski received a July 28, 2005, letter from Bill Baumann, assistant U.S. attorney in Sutton's office, declining prosecution on the argument that under 18 U.S.C. Section 242, the government would have to demonstrate that the boys subjected to sexual abuse sustained "bodily injury." Baumann wrote that, "As you know, our interviews of the victims revealed that none sustained 'bodily injury.'"

Baumann's letter continued, adding a definition of the phrase "bodily injury," as follows: "Federal courts have interpreted this phrase to include physical pain. None of the victims have claimed to have felt physical pain during the course of the sexual assaults which they described."

Posted by: | March 27, 2007 09:34 AM

Monica Goodling needs granting immunity like they should have gave Libby.

Posted by: kb richard | March 27, 2007 09:37 AM

After penning the torture memo and the writing that the Geveva Conventions were "Quaint," only wingnuts and the corporate mainstream media thought this guy had any credibility, let alone have the qualifications to hold the top cop's job in the country. Anyone who wonders why the nation's press has lost so much credibility with the American public is that this guy still actually has a job.

Posted by: nsf | March 27, 2007 09:49 AM

You never grant immunity to anyone before knowing what they are going to say.

Posted by: SGK | March 27, 2007 10:16 AM

So...give her immunity and let her testify that as the WH liason, she conveyed Rove's orders to the Justice Department. US attorneys must investigate, indict and prosecute the enemies of the President. If they don't, they're fired. Question the Prez and they'll get you.

Posted by: thebob.bob | March 27, 2007 10:36 AM

Andrew Cohen: "I am actually willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe Gonzales when he says he was completely out of the loop"

Umm, WHY?

Posted by: John | March 27, 2007 10:45 AM

Wow, its so nice to know that dignity and respect have been restored to government...

I don't know what that Texas Youth Commission comment has to do with this, but its the first time i heard of it, so I looked into it a little. Its telling of the type of politics they practice in Texas, and eerily similar to the politics we've experienced so far from the current Bush administration. Protecting cronies seems far more important than doing one's job with honor, if you're in a government position. Even if you swore an oath.

I wonder how much time the administration has spent dealing with scandals versus upholding the laws they swore to obey and defend?

But at least they told that lie (the oath) with their hand on the bible, not another book! The bible works! (But only if you READ IT, not just put your hand on it.)

Posted by: Bullshot | March 27, 2007 11:03 AM

So the latest defense was something that essentially says, I was only a bureaucrat.

Where does that take us? Well, perhaps the truth. But also a basis for complete disqualification from the job.

Posted by: On the plantation | March 27, 2007 11:36 AM

Amen. Another example of the contamination of our government by the Bush Administration. How come noone cares anymore about the independence of the three branches of government? Gonzalez has never been anything more than a Yes man to Bush, and this attempted cover-up, his placement in the Judicial Branch, etc are all egregious abuses of power. American Democracy is under seige by domestic terrorists.

Posted by: HSP | March 27, 2007 12:26 PM

Something that is getting lost in the shuffle here is that Alberto Gonzalez was confirmed by the Senate. All those senators who now claim to have thought all along that Gonzalez was sketchy held their tongues when it might have made a difference. Integrity remains at a premium in this government, irrespective of party lines.

Posted by: marknesop | March 27, 2007 12:29 PM

Alberto Gonzalez is just the monkey. It is time to impeach the organ grinder, George W. Bush.

Posted by: oldhonky | March 27, 2007 12:41 PM

These individuals are public servants hired to uphold the law, protect America (and Americans), and serve our country. The way they destroy people's opportunities to provide for their families shows us there is nothing honorable about Gonzalez, Rove, Cheney and the present Commander in Chief.

Posted by: kkuate | March 27, 2007 12:42 PM

Yeah, what do you call the head of an agency who claims publicly he had no knowledge of the reasons for the decisions he approved? Irresponsible? Apathetic? No, apparently you call them loyal and dedicated. But dedicated to letting someone else determine the outcome of what has been placed in their charge.

According to his statements, either AG was discriminatory, or he was incompetent.

Can't wait to hear which reason Gonzalez prefers to be fired over.

Also, he makes clear he was sure to communicate with those having knowledge of the job performance of THESE prosecutors. If they were doing things fairly, wouldn't they have evaluated the performance of ALL prosecutors, not just the ones they wanted purged?

Sounds like they had their decision before they say they made up their minds, then set about building their case. In effect, they are practicing what AG preaches - that habeus corpus and its presumption of innocence until proven guilty is gone, as already evidenced in the decisions made by our administration.

Perhaps ideas like Liberty and Freedom are now 'Quaint', too?

As if the White House landed on America's shores, set up shop, and made this continent lush and safe for the rest of us to come. Just as pawns are the soul of chess, the citizens are the life of nation. Ignoring this fact doesn't make it any less true.

Posted by: Bullshot | March 27, 2007 12:45 PM

shows the Bush administration cancer growing fast, doesn't it?

Posted by: backbayak | March 27, 2007 12:52 PM

It seems to me that Bush uses a modified version of the Mafia's "kiss of death" to signal he has decided you are on the way out - in front of the press he calls you by your first name or nickname - diminutive. With Katrina it was "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!" With these firings, a couple weeks ago already, it was something like "Al, here, has my utmost confidence."

Posted by: alschneider | March 27, 2007 12:57 PM

It might be sad watching this plump little nonentity squirming and twisting in front of the hot lights but don't forget this is the same Gonzales who as WH counsel helped to advance the use of torture. Let him hemmorhage under the pressure, and keep the pressue on until we can learn just how deeply the public trust has been betrayed the past six years.

Posted by: Chris Fox | March 27, 2007 01:04 PM

It's sure been interesting to watch the press dance around the one salient fact of this fiasco: Al Gonzalez is a lying sack of s**t. He has been caught red-handed in this, but the cowardly scribes in the so-called mainstream press can't summon the guts to say it. Instead, they say use tortured phrases like: the attorney general's explanation of events seems at odds with the record. How pathetic.

Posted by: John B. | March 27, 2007 01:08 PM

Monica Goodling looks like she could be the first of who knows how many DoJ/WH thirtysomething apparatchiks to lawyer up and look for the escape hatch. The bush/CHENY ship of state long ago lost weigh and has been drifting to and fro, guided only by a need to feed it's funeral pyre in Iraq.

The crushing expense of lawyering up in DC makes me wonder just how much dirt have they swept under the rug. Libby had a lifetime of connections to draw upon for his legal defense fund(wealthy in his own right he could have paid his own way) but all these people in their thirty's cannot all have the same prospects. Each of them has now to balance a few very weighty personal choices: personal culpability, loyalty to power, financial ability to weather legal proceedings, their future prospects etc. How each of them may triangulate their personal situations may not be so important as much as how soon they make their decisions. The first one's to turn "states evidence" get the best deals, while the last ones get to go down with the ship.

Posted by: PatD | March 27, 2007 01:21 PM

W is the only decider here and he loves his loyal puppy! So the AG serves W and W only. If you have a problem with it, take it to W. Oh wait, take it to the man, take it to Cheney!

Posted by: LoyalBushy | March 27, 2007 01:47 PM

Maybe Mr Gonzalez should be subject to the same "humane procedures" that he championed for other suspects - before we can learn the truth.

Posted by: | March 27, 2007 02:27 PM

Any rational person with half a brain could see that Gonzo was lying through his teeth in that interview with Williams. His squirming non-answers, which contradicted his previous squirming non-answers just screamed out "FIBBER". I was taught at a very early age that lying was bad. Furthermore, I learned that keeping track of your lies is much harder than keeping track of the truth. Obviously, Gonzo skipped kindergarten.

I think it's plain and simple...if you don't have anything to hide tell the truth. The truth shall set you free! Or in this case, send you packing......

Posted by: dan | March 27, 2007 02:32 PM

"Something that is getting lost in the shuffle here is that Alberto Gonzalez was confirmed by the Senate. All those senators who now claim to have thought all along that Gonzalez was sketchy held their tongues when it might have made a difference. Integrity remains at a premium in this government, irrespective of party lines."

No, many of them made their point clear. What would you have preffered they do, filibuster him? Seems to me many on the right were claiming that was unconstitutional or improperly blocking the President's inherent right to appoint his own team to the Cabinet. Don't give us BS right now and act as if this is the fault of minority Senate Dems back in 2005. This is completely the fault of Alberto Gonzales and George W. Bush, end of story.

Posted by: Michael | March 27, 2007 03:29 PM

Gonzales is about due for a visit to Guantanamo, where he should be subjected to the same terms that he offered the other detainees. Put a sack over his head, deny him access to counsel, don*t indict him on any charges, keep him in stress positions. After six months or so, ask him what he knows about those attorneys.

Posted by: H5N1 | March 27, 2007 03:39 PM

I keep coming back to : What are they hiding?

After reading Froomkin's column yesterday and today, one possibility is that they were trying to put people in place to conduct a massive "voter fraud" offensive -- one that would violate the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. So one possibility is that the crime Goodling doesn't want to testify about is conspiracy to violate these two Acts of Congress.

Posted by: Nellie | March 27, 2007 03:46 PM

Right on Michael,
I emailed my reps stating my horror that this hack was going to get this position. His appointment was not a slam dunk, and faced a wealth of skepticism and opposition. Guess we were all right....

Posted by: JL | March 27, 2007 03:48 PM

AND Pete Williams learned from the Nixon gang that he was a part of.

Posted by: Discusted | March 27, 2007 03:57 PM

There is no dignity nor integrity in this White House and Bush operatives. No courage either. They should face the music just like Saddam faced his hanging with equananimity.Bushies should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: M. Stratas | March 27, 2007 04:18 PM

Abu Gonzales, the Torturer General, should resign to "spend more time with his family". Of course, Dubbya would have to choose an acceptable candidate to replace him in order for his candidate to be confirmed by Congress. If Bush had any brains, he would nominate a middle of the road Republican attorney with good support and respect in the legal community. Of course, that is if he had any brains...

Posted by: | March 27, 2007 04:27 PM

I am very suspicious that this all has to do with fixing the next election (again). With the right prosecutors in place, even the most obvious fraud could disappear if it implicated repubs. Worse yet, if they left the good US Attorneys in, they might eventually find out what happened in the 2004 "election".

And what was a provision usurping the constitution on appointment of USAs without the Senate's review doing in the "(un)Patriot(ic) Act"? How can this be justified in the context of "national Security"? Is the Senate's review somehow aiding terrorists? Could 9/11 have been prevented if only that pesky Senate review of US Attorneys hadn't been in the way? Would the bushies have appointed Rambo who would have single handedly stopped those planes (in flight no less), if only they didn't have to go through the Senate (even though the Senate was subservient to the bushies).

Posted by: JohnJ | March 27, 2007 04:38 PM

Stupid Bush's puppet, Gonzales.

Posted by: kjung | March 27, 2007 05:00 PM

Oh, you silly people. This is small-bore politics. It is so uninteresting! Move along. Don't you love my redesign of Time magazine?

Posted by: Richard Stengel | March 27, 2007 05:10 PM

This thing is getting inevitable. It's only a matter of time before someone testifies that they were doing Shrub's bidding, that he suborned them to commit felonies in accordance with the plans he cooked up with Rove. Finally the chickens will come home to roost. This is one Swift boating they won't get away with. I'm not even sure the Supreme Court will get in the way of this train. I give him six to twelve months, and he'll be waving goodbye on the stair of Marine One.

Posted by: Robert | March 27, 2007 05:33 PM

This thing is getting inevitable. It's only a matter of time before someone testifies that they were doing Shrub's bidding, that he suborned them to commit felonies in accordance with the plans he cooked up with Rove. Finally the chickens will come home to roost. This is one Swift boating they won't get away with. I'm not even sure the Supreme Court will get in the way of this train. I give him six to twelve months, and he'll be waving goodbye on the stair of Marine One.

Posted by: Robert | March 27, 2007 05:33 PM

"I am actually willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe Gonzales when he says he was completely out of the loop-- at least as far as the details go. But that convinces me even more that this guy is not fit to lead the Justice Department."

I am reminded of Jon Stewart's comment on Gonzales on the Daily Show which went something like this:
"So you're saying that because you can't possibly know EVERYTHING that happens at the DOJ, you aren't responsible for ANYTHING that happens at the DOJ?"

Gonzales can't have it both ways. 'Fess up to managerial incompetence and fall on your sword OR 'fess up to guilt (most likely) and fall on your sword. There should be no middle ground where he gets to keep his job.

Too bad we don't get to apply this standard further up the food chain at the WH.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 27, 2007 05:41 PM

Rove conferred w/Bush, and they decided that they would appoint judges in key states like Arkansas that will investigate the legality of Democratic voters in '08. If Clinton wins the nomination, the GOP will be ready to "Swift Boat" her at the very least.

Check out the other states where Gonzo replaced federal judges:Nevada, could go either way in '08. Arizona, another state where the GOP will obviously charge voter fraud throwing out Democratic votes for Demos.

If the Bush Fascists waited until 2008, it would be too obvious what they where up to. The point is to investigate Clinton in Arkansas, and charge voter fraud in swing states or in states with large Hispanic voters.

Posted by: tanaS | March 27, 2007 05:53 PM

It's not good for the nation's welfare and sanity to have so much high tension on so many fronts. This domestic squabble, Congress in rebellion on military strategy and funding, democratic selection for 2008 rushing ahead towards two elections in effect -- the first being decisive, British Marines and Sailors snatched by the old nemesis Republican Guard, critical helper Pakistan slipping into the mire, etc., etc.

The base of the pyramid (BOP) might crack, and that would be unhappy for all civilization, including addicted spectators observing and analyzing every fault.

Endlessly, excited fears and outrages are the greater part of our daily toxic news. The only diversions in the media are celebrities, which add to the derangement. It takes blind faith to see the possibility that virtue will return and the negative cycle broken. Prayfully, faith could now use some practical assistance from a few courageous patriots in positions of public power. Otherwise, look for monasteries to satisfy all their recruitment goals.

Posted by: On the plantation | March 27, 2007 06:50 PM

I predict that Goodling is granted immunity and compelled to testify. And that will be the end of the Bush administration.

Posted by: Verbal | March 27, 2007 07:19 PM

Robert James in Sydney. If Congress really wants to find out what Gonzales and Monica did why don't they send them to Guantanamo Bay? If Gonzales and The Decider believe that torture, despair, bright lights, abuse, wild dogs, sleep deprivation and show case trials deliver the truth then it is it good enough for lawyers who have memory problems. I predict that just before Dubya leaves office he will pardon a truck load of Republicans so that they will not have to be responsible for numerous unspecified crimes.

Posted by: Robert James | March 27, 2007 08:39 PM

Good analysis, Mr. Cohen (as always).

Posted by: TomT | March 27, 2007 09:13 PM

Gonzales is a torturing sleazeball who lost all credibility with most people over his fumbling justifications for torture. This stuff is no great shock considering his awful track record.

Posted by: Gentry | March 27, 2007 10:25 PM

Water boarding Gonzales is not Nero. That is his boss. As a matter of fact when New Orleans was drowning Buss was strumming on his new guitar and doing some air guitar fro laughs. It is the 21 st century after all.

I don't think Gonzales would last long under a real water board procedure. It goes like this if you want to have a do it yourself authentic experience. You get a galvanized livestock water trough . Fill it with cold water. Get your self a 2 x 8 or so 8 feet or longer and some bailing wire. Tie the perpetrator to the board with the wire with his head unsupported. Then balance the perpetrator on the edge of the trough and then dip his upper body into the trough being sure to completely submerge his head and upper torso on a steep incline. Keep dipping until the perpetrator confesses all and then some. This is guaranteed to get the results you are looking for. Gonzales feels this is good clean fun so he wouldn't mind I'm sure being put to the test.

Posted by: Tomas de Torquemada | March 27, 2007 10:59 PM

Watched the Bill O'Reilly show today on Faux News. Bill Had Professor Turly on the air from Georgetown University Law School. He talked about the Attorney General firing case. Claimed only 8% of America is interested in the story. I went and found the USA Gallop Poll, and the results are...

11. How closely have you been following the news about the U.S. Justice Department in Washington dismissing eight U.S. attorneys - very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Very closely Somewhat closely Not too closely Not at all No opinion

2007 Mar 23-25 14 32 31 22 1

It Shows, 14 percent is watching it very closely, 32 percent is watching it closely. That's 46 percent watching this story closely Bill! And you want to call the New York Times story tellers. You pathetic fool!!!!!

Posted by: whatup65 | March 28, 2007 12:08 AM

Mistake means tax cheat can keep $100M
Judge after issuing ruling: 'I hope the government will appeal me'
The Associated Press
Updated: 5:28 p.m. PT March 27, 2007
WASHINGTON - Poorly written Justice Department documents cost the federal government more than $100 million in what was supposed to have been the crowning moment of the biggest tax prosecution ever.

Walter Anderson, the telecommunications entrepreneur who admitted hiding hundreds of millions of dollars from the IRS and District of Columbia tax collectors, was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison and ordered to repay about $23 million to the city.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said he couldn't order Anderson to repay the federal government $100 million to $175 million because the Justice Department's binding plea agreement with Anderson listed the wrong statute.

Friedman said he could have worked around that problem by ordering Anderson to repay the money as part of his probation. But prosecutors omitted any discussion of probation -- a common element of plea deals -- from Anderson's paperwork.


Posted by: Further evidence on incompetence | March 28, 2007 01:16 AM

Meyerson does a great job of summarizing the current situation:

"There are, I think, four possible, partial explanations. The first is Rudy-ex-machina-- the hope that the party will nominate somebody who is not perceived to be part of their current mess and who will sweep them back into power no matter how big a hole they may now be digging for him. The second is a strategy to make it impossible for the Democrats to pass any legislation, and then run against the do-nothing Democrats.

The third is that the alternative reality conveyed by the Republican media -- Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk -- has created a Republican activist base that is genuinely not reality-based, and from which the current generation of Republican pols is disproportionately drawn. And the fourth, pertaining specifically to the inability of the administration to stop politicizing government, is that good government is just not in their DNA. Bush and Rove are no more inclined to create a government based on such impartial values as law and science than they are to set up collective farms."

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 28, 2007 08:49 AM

Nevermind the attorney firings, my concerns about Mr. Gonzales relate to his theoretical capacity to remain objective and prove himself free of any potential conflicts of interest as relate to the issue of illegal immigration, and the US/Mexico border. I think that's probably a Big Elephant in the room as far as he is concerned, and whether or not he had anything to do with people being fired or whatever, it is, as with Clinton, the incapacity to be forthright on the issue when called on it. Of course, being honest and forthright and the Bush administration don't exactly have a long and storied history of peaceful coexistence, there, of which Gonzales is more problem than symptom.

People that are hot to trot to get both money and power show few qualms about shading the law or breaking it entirely to obtain their goals, if sufficiently aroused to that purpose. But, we can and should expect our government people to strive for and achieve a somewhat higher ideal, and letting their actions speak very loudly in terms of demonstrating their desire to keep good faith with the general public in the course of their public service. If they physically cant do that, or are for some mysterious reason disinclined to conduct themselves in such a fashion, well, that just opens up more and more and more questions...

Posted by: Bert | March 28, 2007 09:25 AM

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