Monday, April 16, 2007

Gonzales: "I have nothing to hide"

The Justice Department has released the opening statement -- all 25 pages of it -- that Alberto Gonzales intends to read at the start of his testimony tomorrow before Congress.

Critics will not be mollified.

He boldly asserts that while the prosecutor firings may have been handled badly, they were not improper. He proposes a simple criteria for impropriety: "The
replacement of one or more U.S. attorneys in order to impede or speed along particular criminal investigations for illegitimate reasons." He then adds: "Our record in bringing aggressive prosecutions without fear or favor and irrespective of political affiliations – a record I am very proud of – is beyond reproach."

He might not get past that statement, because it's demonstrably untrue. We know that several of the prosecutors were criticized for being insufficiently zealous about prosecuting voter fraud. Given that the "voter fraud" initiative overwhelmingly focused on Democrats, included some really questionable cases with big political implications and turned up little to no evidence of such fraud, it's hard to see how that could be construed as a nonpartisan effort. And that's without referring to the disputed study that concluded Democrats were investigated or indicted seven times as often as Republicans. So it's hard to see how Gonzales can make his claim with a straight face.

He now acknowledges that he was kept briefed on the progress of the prosecutor firings, including discussion of specific names, while saying he did not make any decisions about who should be fired. His explanation is reasonable -- he basically viewed the prosecutors as presidential employees, so his input didn' matter -- but not only does this contradict his earlier statements, but it's kind of stunning that the head of the Justice Department would take no role and no apparent interest in the firings of a tenth of his prosecutors. As several observers have noted, such detachment would appear to be de facto proof that Gonzales failed in his responsibility to protect the independence of federal prosecutors.

In that context, his acknowledgement that he was "less than precise" with his earlier words reads like a euphemism for "I lied." Especially given his tortured parsing of his earlier words, in which "I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process" is supposed to have meant "I was being briefed by him, even though I just said I was not involved in any discussions."

He points to changes he is implementing, notably starting an investigation by Justice's internal watchdog and improving communication with the current crop of U.S. attorneys.

The one mistake he acknowledges making is that the firings should have been handled in a more "personal and respectful" way. But mostly he deflects criticism toward Kyle Sampson.

That takes up 7 pages. Then he segues into a discussion of national security, notably defending the various eavesdropping and investigative tools authorized by the Patriot Act. But while he cites a short list of accomplishments, he doesn't demonstrate how those are connected to the powers in question. He only addresses the FBI's abuse of National Security Letters in the context of "we're improving oversight." The interesting news there is that the FBI is conducting a comprehensive review of NSLs at all 56 FBI field offices -- a far more extensive look than the four-office sample that led to the discovery of NSL abuses. And, of course, the even more egregious use of "exigent letters" is banned.

He also, rather comically, argues for a revison of FISA -- a law that as White House counsel he considered irrelevant, overridden by the president's "inherent authority." Having openly violated FISA for years, it's pretty nervy to now ask Congress to revise it.

And then he closes with this line: "We all recognize that we cannot afford to make progress in the War on Terror at the cost of eroding our bedrock civil liberties. Our Nation is, and always will be, dedicated to liberty for all, a value that we cannot and will not sacrifice, even in the name of winning this war. I will not accept failures in this regard."

Pretty funny coming from the guy most instrumental in eroding those liberties.

The rest of the testimony is dedicated to fairly noncontroversial items, like fighting crimes against children, drug abuse, and so on.

Dan Froomkin has some other thoughts on the matter, with links to other good examples of Gonzales word torture, as well as Sen. Pat Leahy's dismissive response.

And then there's this piece from the Albuquerque Journal (h/t: Moderate Voice), suggesting that at least one of the prosecutors -- David Iglesias -- was fired after Sen. Pete Domenici pressured President Bush. It indicates repeated pressure and questioning of Iglesias by Domenici, notably an aggressive attempt to increase corruption prosecutions -- over Iglesias' demurrals -- after Iglesias indicted two prominent Democrats in 2005.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Justice Department didn't release Gonzales' opening statement to the press: Patrick Leahy did. Just like he did with Sampson's opening statement. You see---anyone coming before a Committee is required to release their opening statement to the Committee members 24 hours before their testimony. So Leahy and Schumer release it to the press, so everyone can start stomping on it in advance.....just as you are doing here. Just as they did Sampson's.

There is nothing FAIR about this show trial. Leahy and Schumer have already made up their minds....even before they began. They don't even give the people appearing before them the privilege of giving their own opening statements.


4/17/2007 1:31 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

So now it's a sign of bad faith to release a statement that is going to be public in 24 hours anyway?

Stuff like that happens all the time. It gives people time to digest and analyze information before having to report on it. It's a bipartisan practice.

4/17/2007 8:07 AM  

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