No Confidence in His Competence

The brief ebb tide in the U.S. attorney scandal has gone. Thanks to the startling testimony of former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, and new revelations about dysfunction within the Justice Department, the rip tide of controversy and political pressure is back. Today Senate Democrats will try to engineer a "no confidence" vote on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. And from the looks of things they'll have plenty of support from their GOP colleagues.

From today's New York Times: "Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, said on Thursday that Mr. Gonzales should resign... In addition, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said Mr. Gonzales's resignation should now be considered a possibility. 'When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it,' Mr. Roberts said. This week, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said Mr. Gonzales should leave. Other Republican senators who have called for his resignation are John McCain of Arizona, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. And Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has not called for Mr. Gonzales's dismissal, came closer to saying that he was finished. 'I have a sense that when we finish our investigation, we may have the conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general,' Mr. Specter said at a meeting of the committee on Thursday."

Indeed, any senator who votes against the Gonzales resolution ought to be required to stand in the well of the Senate and explain why. Such an exercise would make for great C-Span viewing, because there is not a single reason for lawmakers, or anyone else, to have any confidence that the attorney general can effectively carry out his duties as the nation's top law enforcement official.

Crime is up. Confidence within the Department is down. Investigations into official conduct abound. And Gonzales himself remains unable or unwilling to come forward with straight and complete answers about precisely how and why the U.S. Attorneys were fired.

The Washington Post this morning reports that four more federal prosecutors were targeted -- bringing the total to 30 -- and making all the more incredible the attorney general's story that he was mostly out of the loop when it came to the purge (as planned and then executed). Instead of a "no-confidence" vote they ought to have a "confidence" vote and then give the "yeas" mental evaluations.

So let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the anti-Gonzales resolution passes with a healthy majority. What then? Gonzales no doubt will issue a statement declaring that he intends to continue to work for the American people. And the White House no doubt will issue a statement declaring that Gonzales continues to have the full support of President Bush.

And reporters will continue to press both to explain those positions. But nothing will happen unless and until some of those GOP lawmakers who are coming out against Gonzales publicly meet with the president (or Gonzales) privately and declare that the jig is up and that the guy has gotta go. I mean, when Pat Roberts of Kansas hints that a Republican official ought to resign, it's a good bet that there is literally no measurable GOP support for that official.

The rip tide is back. Why in the world would Gonzales continue to fight it? And why in the world would the president allow him to do so? We need a strong attorney general. A competent one. An independent one with plenty of integrity. In short, we need the anti-Gonzales -- and we need him or her now.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 18, 2007; 7:43 AM ET agag
Previous: More Injustice at Justice | Next: "A Very Strong" AG? White House Should Prove it


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Andrew asks: "Why in the world would Gonzales continue to fight it?"

Because Gonzales knows too much. The longer he stays where he is, the longer the Administration can stonewall the other investigations into the NSA wiretapping, torture at Guantanamo Bay, extrordinary rendition to secret CIA prisons oveseas, the cooked intelligance books on WMD, etc.

Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if Gonzales himself was involved in the genesis of the US Attorney purge when he was still White House Counsel. All in the name of the "Permanent Republican Majority."

Posted by: Nellie | May 18, 2007 10:14 AM

"Why in the world would Gonzales continue to fight it? And why in the world would the President allow him to do so?" I presume these are purely rhetorical questions since the comments to Bench Conference blog have given many reasons for the past several weeks. The main ones though are that (1) Bush needs Gonzo to provide legal cover to him; (2) Bush and undoubtedly Rove fear that a dismissed Gonzo might start defending himself by pointing fingers at others, specifically others in the White House, and Gonzo knows where the bodies are buried; and (3) Bush fears a confirmation battle for a successor AG, even one who has the qualities everyone would wish for, i.e., as you write, "A strong one. A competent one. An independent one with plenty of integrity." Indeed, it seems an inescapable inference that such a person is exactly the opposite of what Bush wants in the AG's office. There were many such persons available, good Republicans, who fit that description when Bush chose Gonzo. Bush rejected them all in choosing Gonzo who though not strong, not competent and certainly not independent, was reliable. He would do whatever Bush and Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld wanted. I suspect that Bush will stick to his guns and refuse to dismiss Gonzo no matter what the vote in the 'no confidence' resolution. The question is whether Gonzo himself will finally break under the relentless public scrutiny and contempt. So far he has shown himself to be utterly shameless. Can he keep it up as his team at Justice abandons ship and strong, competent and independent lawyers stay away in droves? The answer may well be yes since such a scenario would provide more openings for the kinds of lawyers who were so attractive to Monica Goodling. This would serve the purposes of the White House and its whorish attorney general.

Posted by: P. Bosley Slogthrop | May 18, 2007 10:47 AM

Slogthrop's point #2 is most interesting. Gonzo has been quick to blame others for his problems -- can't imagine how much mud he could splash on Bush and Rove if he were forced out. I'd want to hear from him on NSA spying and CIA torture.

However, his whole career is based on loyalty to Bush, so he might cling to that. Keep watching....

Posted by: Sleepytime | May 18, 2007 11:14 AM

Specter is my Senator and I am ashamed of him. As a Senate Judiciary leader, he is a partisan disgrace. He has no spine, no soul, and ironically, no sense of justice. His lame-ass comments dance all around the issue, but is simply a Bush-GOP lap-dog who doesn't have the guts to call a pig a pig.

Posted by: JL | May 18, 2007 12:00 PM

The sad thing is that Bush has Fredos and Bandidos and Gonzos all the way down the chain of the justice system, across all branches of law, justice, intelligence and law enforcement, all the way down to the state, local and elite level. The system is rigged. Whistleblowers don't stand a chance. Crime victims are looted. Justice is obstructed. Crimes are repeated hundreds of times. They ought to have a "confidence" vote and then give the "yeas" mental evaluations; certifiably insane idealogues have hijacked not only the Republican Party, but America itself. When John Ashcroft threatens to resign because he thinks you are a power hungry ultra-right-wing idealogue subverting democracy, one must question whether this system can still be fixed from within.

Posted by: Andrew Citizen | May 18, 2007 12:01 PM

Remember, there is a PLAN to deal with this fall-out. we are still, unbelievably, in the "gumming it to death" stage. there has never been any contingency that called for fredo to quit. he will have to be FORCED out and our representatives do not have the will to do what it takes to make that happen.

there is no way to measure the level of frustration this story is causing to the little guy on the street who has always felt that there is NO justice operating in this country unless you have $$.

this has done damage that will be felt for decades and still, 43 is blinded by love for fredo such that the entire justice system can go down in flames.

no way this is fiction but it sounds like the worst storyline EVER for the people.

Posted by: pre AmeriKKKan | May 18, 2007 12:07 PM

Another reason for the resistance to Gonzales' dismissal: postponing the avalanche. How many in the news are resisting retirement? Wolfowitz at the Bank (good riddance), Olmert in Israel, Gonzales and many other thugs of the shadowy Administration. Rove will be next and at some point someone is going to cut a deal to save his neck and reveal something that can't be spun away. Something that will lead to riots. Gonzales has shown himself to be a complete slimeball, unfit for responsibility requiring moral judgment. He needs to go, and let the avalanche begin.

Posted by: Chris Fox | May 18, 2007 12:22 PM

John Dean has an interesting column about this issue too today--worth checking out.

The censure vote is the right move at this stage. It puts the Senate on record and the White House on notice.

I would even say there's a pretty good chance that Gonzales will tender his resignation this upcoming Monday. Any takers? I'm willing to wager my shiniest quarter.

Posted by: JP2 | May 18, 2007 12:25 PM

Gonzales is the Barry Bonds of this administration: No amount of shame or ridicule or even proven allegations will make him do anything. Bush is terrified of a new AG confirmation hearing. Gonzales is the meat-shield; as long as he's standing, the real story based right in the Oval Office remains unexplored.

Posted by: Dave Draper | May 18, 2007 12:42 PM

Wish I shared your confidence on the no confidence vote--my guess is Republicans will use parlimentary manuvers to stall or block a vote. Hope I'm wrong

Posted by: pasco | May 18, 2007 12:49 PM

But it's funny, "chiaramente" is sure that the situation is totally different about Mcnulty and somewhat persuasively talks with assurance as if it were an obvious fact , and yet many SENATORS, the ones making the decisions, our patrician representatives if you will, are making categorical final statements about what should happen to M. Gonzalez based on this recent testimony. How does this happen? Are they much more in the dark than some of us? Or are they making life-changing decisions on other criteria than the real situation? Don't know, just asking.
Sometimes figuring out reality these days is far from apparent, esp. when the powers- that-be act so shocked at something like Comey's testimony. They almost act as if their whole "worldview" of the administration changed on this basis, and indeed that is also how many newspapers and editorials are talking. We don't get any more official or prominent than our senators and the main newspapers/presumed authoritative thinkers who write their editorials, and who are in the official position of having the best access to the actual facts.

Are they to be believed? Do they really have better information than the rest of us (often, their statements don't seem to be informed by previously reported and avialable information, but appear only to react to the whim/perceived public temper of the moment)?

Posted by: Art | May 18, 2007 02:02 PM


I take your bet. I don't think Gonzalas can or will resign. I've become convinced that from their perspective the strategy is still working: the team put in place to steal the 2008 election is still there, and, short of impeachment, will be. And they will prevail.

Posted by: wrb | May 18, 2007 02:06 PM

Crime is up? Gonzalez's spokesman today said he is eager to get to work to "protect the American people from pedophiles,child molesters, gangs" etc.. He is going to do that? Sad that the transparency was evident before, but one could be shouted down or attacked for mentioning it.

After all he LOOKED the part, and many in the country have this automatic faith in groups of authority (e.g. our brave soldiers assumed inherently virtuous by default, yet many of whom commit heinous crimes as civilians), no matter how many times contradicted, maybe a desire for blind "UNITY" as desirable for its own sake.

Posted by: Tim | May 18, 2007 02:16 PM

I take JP2's bet also. Gonzo stays, for P. Bosley's reason #2: He knows where too many bodies are buried, and he knows who killed them. See Eggen's story today for the reference to the president not commenting on who sent Gonzo and Card to Ashcroft's hospital bed. Who do you think sent them? POTUS will protect Gonzo to avoid having him tell that story.

Posted by: ExAUSA | May 18, 2007 02:30 PM

Gonz is a personal Bush acolyte from way back . Bush's world view, as much as it is informed by his convenience, is subjective, he and his own above everything else and can simply ignore anything adverse if it comes(remember the one good thing he could think of to say about Kerry,other than that Kerry had gone to Yale, was that he was cordial to Bush's daughters? Remember the face he had at that moment? In this instance appearances were transparently revealing) (and , strange but true, but is GWB up on feminism and postmodernism, or what?).

Therefore I would be surprised if G goes, short of being forced. I think Andrew is right that the White House's rather surreal given the circumstances response will be to "express full confidence" (the label is all until one is forced otherwise, and then expresses willingness to listen, as if he is the one doing the critics a favor!)and Gonz will state his readiness to work for the public (just dismissing and changing the subject as one has ceased tolerating an unruly child).
I don't consider any blind "loyalty" to GMan on GWB's part in this scenario (with the big assumption that he does so not out of fear of secrets being revealed) to be admirable, either; typically narcissistic and delusional, certainly.

Posted by: Jan | May 18, 2007 03:02 PM

Ah yes, Andrew Citizen, now I think you are on to something! Most don't want to face this image-and we know that images have become the currency of our very thinking and sensing processes now (we can't be invaded much more than that)- but from my observations and figuring things out, your points seem to me RIGHT ON.

Posted by: Lawrence | May 18, 2007 03:09 PM

preameriKKk: True about the frustration; the problem with the little guy's concept of "justice" is that many times the little guy/gal is sure they know what justice is "supposed to be"/can make it in their own image.

The Founding Fathers were wise: they most rightly in my view did not believe in the judgment of the little guy-that is one reason we have a republic-and they tried to have standards of substantiated positions with evidence for the people's representatives. Of course, the representatives might well conflict, but the idea was they would substantiate and document their positions, so that a disinterested party could see the argumentation for the sides.

The advent of the entitlement of the populace/populists' importance and "rights" with the expectation of the elected officials' mirroring the sometimes uninformed views of the constituents (not to mention, mon dieu!, the "norms" promoted by the media) was a big factor to the subsequent unravelling of the representatives' accountability themselves. Merely competing affiliations in itself is not supposed to be sufficient (although such a misbelief certainly facilitates acceptance of the Reagan/Friedman vision).

Posted by: Holland | May 18, 2007 03:33 PM

All of the revelations about G should be no surprise after hearing that he had no problem with officially sanctioning torture "for a greater good" (and shocking to say, accepted as valid by many of the current American people!)and celebrating without reservation GWB's propensity to act on and "trust his good instincts". (down with the critters of the jungle, or of the African savanna; primeval, this GWB is)

Posted by: Alan | May 18, 2007 03:46 PM

Seems like a good point, ExaUSA!

Posted by: arne | May 18, 2007 04:19 PM

The country should be riveted by Bush, Gonzales, Rove et al., and their criminal behavior, but in truth my college-senior daughter and my wife don't even know about it. Most of the population pays more attention to American Idol than they do to the miscreants heading our government. Case in point. My local paper's question of the week: Is Bush doing a good job as president. Respondents are evenly divided with 49 percent saying yes, and 49 percent saying no. With everything that's been revealed, 49 percent of the people asked still say our president is doing a good job--in my conservative neck of the woods.

Posted by: Dave | May 18, 2007 04:22 PM

Out of curiosity, where are you, Dave (so I keep this in mind when considering places to which to move)? I hope not in Oregon,Rhode Island, or Mass, as those are the states which for various reasons appeal to me to move to.

(your college senior daughter doesn't even know about it?)

Posted by: Abe | May 18, 2007 05:45 PM

Northwest Illinois. I'm not certain, but I don't think she keeps up with national news. I'll have to give her a national politics quiz. In her defense, finals were last week and she earned a 4.0.

Posted by: Dave | May 18, 2007 07:11 PM

It is well known that more people rely on broadcast news than print and, unfortunately, broadcast is doing an abysmal job of telling this critical story. It's barely even mentioned on the national network newscasts when it should be leading the news each day. There should be no debate on whether Bush has broken laws (such as FISA) and he and his entire administration should currently be serving their prison terms. I am so sick of this equivocating.

Posted by: Gardenia | May 18, 2007 11:24 PM

Sad to hear about your neck of the woods, Dave. In my neck of the world, Australians follow U.S. events with much more alacrity than northwest Illinoisians. Bush would not get a 49% "good job" rating here. He'd be lucky to get 4-point-9% approval. We had some Aussie friends over for dinner last night and they were well-versed on Gonzales. Of course, that's a specialised audience, a couple who chooses to be friends with expat Yanks. Rest assured that the rest of the world is watching, even if your wife and daughter are not.

Posted by: Bukko in Australia | May 19, 2007 05:38 AM

"I want you three guys to shut up," Lynne Cheney said, pointing at Cheney, Wolfowitz and Adelman. "Let's hear what Scooter thinks."

Libby, smiling, just said he thought what had happened was "wonderful."

It was a pretty amazing accomplishment, they all agreed, particularly given the opposition to war. (End of Woodward excerpt).

The neocon's agenda has done more damage to our country's reputation than any malignant outside force could have ever hoped to accomplish. Isn't it ironic.

Posted by: Dave | May 19, 2007 08:42 AM

Oops, neocons'.

Posted by: Dave | May 19, 2007 08:46 AM

A no-confidence vote is a joke. Bush would obviously ignore it, and it would serve as a fig-leaf for the moderate Republican buffoons who are sweating their reelection prospects.

Gonzo's testimony regarding whether there had been internal disputes about the surveillance "program" (the laughable euphemism used by Bush and his flunkies to describe a violation of constitutional rights) was probably literally true although intended to mislead. Too bad that the Dems on the Committee were too self-absorbed and incompetent to see through the smoke-screen and push Gonzo to the wall on whether there had been disagreements on the program as previously constituted.

Lark Over

Posted by: Lark Over | May 19, 2007 09:14 AM

Are they to be believed? Do they really have better information than the rest of us (often, their statements don't seem to be informed by previously reported and avialable information, but appear only to react to the whim/perceived public temper of the moment)?

Posted by: Art | May 18, 2007 02:02 PM

I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head, Art. But wait until Monica Goodling testifies on 5/23-she will shed much light on the matter, I think.

And those with their axes to grind, working in common concert with each other, will have to, well... work a little harder.

Posted by: chiaramente | May 19, 2007 09:51 AM

Dave: Excellent! And no criticism meant btw.

Posted by: Abe | May 19, 2007 01:23 PM

HO HO, this Bernstein article should be a REQUIRED PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT in every household and TV set (much as everyone would know about an earthquake or hurricane or tornado alert) in the country of who exactly is making policies demanding your obligation and even life, and what they base their decisions on. If you've been asleep before (I perhaps rose-tintedly still hoping that the majority of the country has a fundamentally beneveolent and well-intentioned character), there is no excuse not to be informed now!

The Cold War is over, the US is the sole superpower, the brat generation doesn't need the rest of the world, they have psychology, technocratic/economic superiority (neither of the latter of which that they did much to earn themselves; that's OK, the consumer is king/queen), and themselves!

Congratulations, America! Hope you are gratified by a society that embodies your personally suspected and hoped-for confirmation of your superior self-esteem and importance. For make no mistake, this administration isn't that much of an exception (although of course there has been some dissent all along, but just pockets, and not close to what is warranted by reality): they were reelected, and have been knowingly supported throughout, and apparently still are to a significant extent, no matter what.

Dave, again thanks so much for posting this article. Words fail me to convey its public importance for the entire nation.

Posted by: Henry | May 19, 2007 02:20 PM


Wasn't necessarily buying your position, just noting the possibility/plausability of the scenario you present,and my puzzlement at the specialist reporters' and senators'(both in the official position of having better access than us common folk to the actual situation) apparently complete unawareness of the line of thought of someone such as yourself who acts in the know.

We'll find out what the future brings,won't we!

Posted by: Art | May 19, 2007 02:34 PM

Bukko, emphatically not sexist, but practically speaking in the U.S. now, the stage has been set for women to benefit and prevail whatever changes of any kind occur. Can't really fault any for not paying attention as opposed to entertainment; they know where number 1 is.

Posted by: Randi | May 19, 2007 02:40 PM

Who was the fly on the wall at the 2001 dinner? If Adelman, he certainly did an about-face.

By "whether history will bear us out" (the mass graves heard about after)is clearly meant whether can find any benefit to claim ex post facto as the pretended intended objective of one's predetermined desired course of action. And Colin says this WITHOUT ANY IRONY. It's OK to do anything one likes even if may well be for explicit self-serving ends, because one may find some positive thing later that one can later shine the spotlight on as the pretext/reason; or as a humanitarian fig to mobilize popular support to one's self-serving cause (whatever the cost), and calm any doubts: we won and we "were part of a greater good". What's to "be negative" about?!They certainly showed those naysayers(don't think the Agnew echo is accidental)of the old order such as Scowcroft, Baker, even Kissinger(!)

I think what DIRELY needs to be thoroughly explored is what enabled the overwhelming majority of the public and elected officials to be taken in so easily by preintended and calculated demagoguery, and even after learning about abuses and violations to common people, to continue to condone them, often almost morally, to the extent that happened.

Posted by: Brent | May 19, 2007 03:16 PM

Very slightly indirect to this, but why on earth is the US engaged in killing people, often innocent civilians, in Afghanistan of all places (such a worthy opponent!), not to mention numerous instances of killing as revenge/expressing anger over one or two American soldiers being killed in an explosion (don't be fooled by the concerted attempts at creating a smokescreen; the pattern is there in other US operations)? For instance, yesterday the general regretted an army member apologizing for killing innocent civilians as "improper", even though after the fact payments of $2000 per person were appropriate?!!!

This is what honest, fair-minded citizens are supposed to accept and be grateful for?

Posted by: Dan | May 19, 2007 03:47 PM

Note to clarify: The "improper" of the general's statement above referred to the officer's apology (not the massacre).
The after the fact payment (as a spontaneous, generous gesture by the unit in question, not directed by the higher ups) of $2000 was per Afghan villager (wonder if the general would assume that as a fair price for Americans satisfyingly killed first, "compensated" later)

Posted by: Dan | May 19, 2007 03:55 PM

I'm wondering if McNulty resigned because he knew Gonzo was on his way out and he (McNulty) didn't want to inherit the mess left behind?

Posted by: Armin Tamzarian | May 20, 2007 11:33 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company