Forget Censure and Impeachment; Gonzales Needs to Go Now

Columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr. argues this week that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should be censured by the Congress for his dubious role in the widening U.S. Attorney scandal. Last week, a law professor named Frank Bowman suggested that the Congress could and perhaps should impeach Gonzales for his many failures as a cabinet level official. Neither of these options make sense; neither would accomplish what needs to be accomplished in a reasonable period. The attorney general, who keeps "taking responsibility" for his role in the controversy but then refuses to do anything about it, simply needs to go, either voluntarily or with a push from the White House. Nothing short of that is going to fix this problem as quickly as it needs to be fixed.

Why? Because this is an executive branch problem that ought to be solved within the executive branch. President Bush continues to place loyalty to his old friend above the duty and responsibility to ensure that the American people are served by the best public officials possible (and absolutely no one is saying that Gonzales fits that bill). And Gonzales himself refuses to acknowledge what more and more of his political allies now say: that he is a distraction and a detriment to his president, his party and to the people he purports to lead at the Justice Department.

Bush continues to flaunt the presidential power to appoint and then retain anyone to serve at his "pleasure" no matter how ineffective and the person may be. Congress cannot fix this mess and shouldn't even try. A simple look at the arguments for "censure" and "impeachment" prove the point.

As Bowman sees it, the case for the impeachment of Gonzales is this: "A false claim not to remember is just as much a lie as a conscious misrepresentation of a fact one remembers well. Instances of phony forgetfulness seem to abound throughout Mr. Gonzales's testimony, but his claim to have no memory of the November Justice department meeting at which he authorized the attorney firings left even Republican stalwarts like Jeff Sessions of Alabama gaping in incredulity. The truth is almost surely that Mr. Gonzales's forgetfulness is feigned -- a calculated ploy to block legitimate Congressional inquiry into questionable decisions made by the Department of Justice, White House officials and, quite possibly, the president himself. Even if perjury were not a felony, lying to Congress has always been understood to be an impeachable offense."

Fair enough. No reasonable person who saw the attorney general's pitiful performance last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee could argue that it was anything but an affront to the lawmakers and the people they serve. But Gonzales is unworthy of the time and energy the Congress would have to spend to try to impeach him. Important legislative measures would be blown off. An impeachment push also might sidetrack the many investigations into the burgeoning scandal at the Justice Department -- which week by week shed light on the rotten core that has been fostered there by its current leaders.

These investigations and the facts they uncover -- not some nasty impeachment trial -- will constitute a fitting legacy for the attorney general. And the longer he pretends that he can continue at his post, the harsher will be history's judgment of him.

Taylor agrees: "Impeaching Alberto Gonzales, as some are starting to suggest, would be overkill. It would make no sense to put the nation through the agony of an impeachment trial to get rid of one ineffectual, hopelessly uninformed presidential lapdog. But this does not mean that members are powerless to do anything beyond groaning at a Bush spokeswoman's fantastic claim that Gonzales is 'doing a fantastic job' and looking for reasons to skip town to avoid the next installment of his cloddish testimony."

Taylor wants the Congress to merely "censure" Gonzales -- a no-muss, no-fuss solution. But what's the point? No matter what happy chestnuts Gonzales offers publicly, he knows that approximately 60 senators (including increasing numbers of Republicans) already have "censured" him with their expressions of disapproval for his job performance. And what effect has it had on his willingness to just get out? Apparently none.

Gonzales should go voluntarily. But since he won't, Congress should continue to push him in that direction through the investigations it has undertaken. That way, he and President Bush will have no one to blame but themselves when the sorry details that continue to emerge from those investigations finally leave them both with no choice.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 9, 2007; 7:57 AM ET agag
Previous: Texas Supreme Court to Juries: Get Bent | Next: Gonzales to Congress: Get Over it, I'm Staying


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The problem here is that although Gonzales is doing an horrendous job by all objective standards, he is doing exactly what the President wants. He has presided over the politicization of the Justice Department. He has allowed the DOJ to be used as a tool to establish that "permanent Republican majority" Delay and Rove are always talking about by selective prosecution of "voter fraud" cases, suspicious timing of corruption cases against Democrats, and ignoring blatant violations of the Voting Rights Act by Republicans.

No, Gonzales is following his script to the word, thus the President's increased confidence. If he is going to leave his office before January 2009, it will have to be by act of Congress. It becomes a question of priorities at this point. Does repairing some of the damage to public confidence in the government take precidence over other legislative priorities, or not?

Posted by: Nellie | May 9, 2007 09:06 AM

Geez! No shadow government? What's next? Real democracy? No more spying on Americans and the return of habeas corpus? Shotgun Dick and Herr Rove won`t be happy about this...Alberto Puto Gonzales must go!

Posted by: braultrl | May 9, 2007 09:44 AM

The point about impeachment is well taken, however to make accelerate Gonzales' departure from the Justice Department Congressional Republicans would have to do more than just shake their heads and voice disapproval when the Attorney General comes up to the Hill and lies about is memory to their face.

The habit of reflexive, ostentatious deference to the President of their own party is one that grew over a period of years, and it's proving just brutally hard for Republicans in Congress to break. Gonzales is not important to the core supporters in most Republican constituencies to be worth protecting, but to make removing him a priority would offend President Bush. There aren't many Republicans in Congress willing to do that for any reason, which is why the embarrassment of Gonzales' tenure as Attorney General will have to continue for a while longer.

Posted by: Zathras | May 9, 2007 10:55 AM

The script Nellie mentions is the superior sanctity of supporting "my INTERESTS (to be said with a sanctimonious self-important whine)" to the subordination and exclusion of any other consideration. But this same ideology has "empowered" so many of the "common people" in the last two decades. I personally am often repelled by the typical characteristics and influence of that generation.

Also, apparently the typical pattern of inital outraged proclamations and then quiet smoothing over when public mood subsides seems to be in place (so with all the evidence, a "censure" is what is proposed? Yet another indication of the social management/control through psychology/child psychology/Skinner quite opposed to honesty and reality)

Posted by: Fred | May 9, 2007 01:29 PM

Every day Fredo and Wolfie are still in their current positions is a gift to the Democrats.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | May 9, 2007 02:22 PM

Loudoun, how, if the result calculated/hoped for never comes?

Posted by: jim | May 9, 2007 02:43 PM

I must concurr with Nellie: the idea that Gonzalas is incompetent and acting independently is no longer believable, and only clouds the true issues of guilt.

He is doing exactly what the president wants, the crimes are the presidents.

Posted by: bill | May 9, 2007 02:59 PM

Jim: Because these two idiots are inextricably linked to Bush, who will be inextricably linked to the GOP nominee in oh 99 percent of campaign ads next year.

The only result that matters is a win in the 2008 presidential election. We've already survived six years of Bush and his cronies, what's another two?

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | May 9, 2007 03:35 PM

Maybe, although I don't find Hillary or Obama as far as integrity all that encouraging either.

Posted by: jim | May 9, 2007 04:06 PM

It's hard to disagree with Nellie. Gonzales is a 'made man', loyal to his don. I can't imagine Bush firing him not only for the reasons Nellie suggests, but also because of the risks to Bush, Rove, and others that would be created by forcing Gonzales off the bus. What I can imagine is Gonzales finally resigning, unwilling or unable to take the heat anymore. He is now widely considered to be a liar of epic proportions, indeed a perjurer if his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was under oath. His name has become synonymous with ignominy and disgrace. This is a mighty heavy burden for anyone to carry, especially a Harvard Law grad, former gubernatorial counsel, state supreme court justice, presidential counsel and Attorney General. His personal and professional reputations are in tatters, indeed destroyed. The day may come when he finally throws in the towel and slinks off into a hoped-for obscurity, licking his countless wounds, having concluded at long last that loyalty has its limits. We can all wish that he had recognized the limits of loyalty years ago before he sacrificed his integrity and the public interest on the altar of King George.
The notion of a congressional censure seems to me to be a waste of time. It will be blown off by Bush and Gonzales and Republicans as mere politics. Worse yet, it will suggest that all that Gonzales' contemptuous conduct before Congress merits is a slap on the wrist, a bad message to deliver to other Administration witnesses who are inclined to suffer from selective or global amnesia during congressional investigations and hearings. An impeachment process would serve to vindicate Congress' interest in obtaining truthful information from government officials and other witnesses in connection with its oversight and other legislative functions. It would also cause some sleepless nights for many if not most of the political operatives in the White House and high Department of Justice officials. It would be hard to feel sorry for these folks considering the damage they have inflicted on the Department of Justice and on public confidence in the fair administration of justice under the Bush regime.

Posted by: P. Bosley Slogthrop | May 9, 2007 06:46 PM

JIM: So, what's wrong with Edwards? Or would you rather have Guilianni with his record of marriages and failures, or John McCain who's definitely a wash and another Bush "yes-man", or Newt Gingrich with his baggage or Romney, the flip flopper.

The U.S. has not fared well under any of the recent Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan. He was not without his scandals, either. Your party crowned him a "saint" but ignored his failings, some of which are still "trickling" on down as we speak.

So, other than the fact John Edwards is a successful attorney and business man, what's your problem with his plan and vision for America, and how he wants to help OUR people?

Posted by: Cheryl | May 9, 2007 07:37 PM

It is well past time for Gonzales to go.

I agree that, ideally, Gonzales would leave on his own initiative; however, realistically I suspect that the threat of probable impeachment is the only way that this will come to pass. (Rather than subjecting his friend to an accountability moment, it's a safe bet that GWB will ask his friend to get out of town before before the hammer drops ala Nixon). I suspect we may not see any action on this until late Fall or early Winter. It is not an ideal outcome, but then again, neither is the mess that the President and his advisers have created at DOJ.

The congress is doing what it needs to do in order to shed light on the White House's unprecedented actions. Hopefully, members of the GOP will also recognize that there is political life after George W. Bush's presidency. The best gift a president can have is an opposition congress, and in the event that a Democrat wins the presidency in 2008, it will be good for the country if the GOP remains a viable and deserving opposition party. Tying its fortunes to this president on Iraq and the politicization of the DOJ is bad politics over the long haul, and even more importantly, it's bad for the country. In a very real way, George W. Bush has already checked out of a leadership role in his unwillingness to hold his employees to the same professional standard that any middling CEO would.

Posted by: JP2 | May 9, 2007 10:05 PM

AC, I would be curious to hear your take on the Attorney General's order granting hiring and firing authority to DOJ aides:

In reference to this so-called "Excepting Clause of the Constitution" this seems like an invented right, of debatable merit going all the way back to 2005.

Maybe I'm missing something here.

I do know that there is an explicit "Appointments Clause," but this "Excepting Clause" seems at best a debatable implied authority. It would seem to be trumped by the explicit Constitutional provision in Article II, Section II, paragraph 2:

"He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments."

Where is the explicit authority for the Attorney General to delegate this authority to his unconfirmed subordinates?

Posted by: JP2 | May 9, 2007 10:58 PM

Save USA... Impeach Bush and his lackeys...

Posted by: shah | May 10, 2007 12:33 PM

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