The Long Knives Are Out for Gonzales
Over the past 24 hours it has become clear that there is an internal struggle within the White House over the fate of the hapless Attorney General. Yes, it is true that the only man who truly counts, President George W. Bush, is firmly behind his old friend Alberto R. Gonzales. But a few pay grades below, the battle roils on. Yesterday, we were told by some in the pro-Gonzales camp that the Attorney General indeed has a spine and was even willing to stand up to his boss on the issue of an investigation into the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. But this morning, the anti-Alberto faction struck back. The New York Times has a big and important story reporting that Gonzales recently argued against closing the Guantanamo Bay terror detainee facility even though the new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, suggested that it be done.
Here is how the Times put it: "Mr. Gates's appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush's publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo's continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said. Mr. Gates' arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said." So it was Gonzales and Cheney versus Gates and... Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who also pushed to shut down Gitmo.
If you were a betting man or woman, which quinella would you be betting on these days at the White House? Gates-Rice? Or Gonzales Cheney? Me too. If you had a choice between trying to move us all past Gitmo, and the ugliness it suggests, or keeping us mired there, which would you choose? Me too.
The fact that the Times story would be leaked by "administration officials" at this juncture in the controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors tells me that there is a strong anti-Alberto faction within the White House that wants to disarm Gonzales' so-called charm offensive before it gathers any momentum. As part of that offensive yesterday, pro-Gonzales folks at the Justice Department sought to reassure us all that the Attorney General did not try to block an internal probe into the NSA's controversial spy program. Fair enough and good for him. Unfortunately for him, though, and for us too, Gonzales' friend the President ended up rejecting the Attorney General's advice. From this episode we learn that even when the Attorney General exercises independent and sound judgment he isn't able to persuade his client to do the right thing.
Here is the text of the letter the Justice Departement released yesterday: Dear Senator: This responds to your letter of March 15,2007, regarding allegations made in a National Law Journal article ('Aborted DOJ Probe Probably Would Have Targeted Gonzales') published the same day. The article discusses an Office of Professional Responsibility ("OPR) investigation into the conduct of Department of Justice lawyers relating to certain specific NSA activities publicly confirmed by the President (hereinafter, the 'Terrorist Surveillance Program'). Within the Department of Justice, OPR sought assistance in obtaining security clearances to the Terrorist Surveillance Program to conduct its investigation. This request reached the Attorney General. The Attorney General was not told that he was a subject or target of the OPR investigation, nor did he believe himself to be. The Attorney General did not ask the President to shut down or otherwise impede the OPR investigation. The Attorney General recommended to the President that OPR be granted security clearances to the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The President made the decision not to grant the requested security clearances."
The subpoenas are locked and loaded. The long knives are out. The advocacy groups are out in force. And so another week of scandal ebbs with a defiant president, an outraged Congress, and a battle wthin and without the White house itself for the hearts and minds of the American people in their perceptions of the man the president and others called "Judge."
By Andrew Cohen |
March 23, 2007; 8:03 AM ET
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