Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gonzales roundup

Sheesh, I go away for a few days and everything goes bonkers.

Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty -- one of the people involved in the U.S. attorney firings -- said he would resign.

He says he always intended to spend no more than two years in the post, and by the time a successor is found he will nearly have hit that milestone. But it seems pretty clear that the prosecutor brouhaha contributed to his decision.

Alberto Gonzales said a lot of nice things.

"Paul is an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney who has been valued here at the department, by me and so many others, as both a colleague and a friend," Gonzales said.

Let me be a little more precise. He said a lot of nice things yesterday. Today, Gonzales wasn't quite so complimentary.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he relied heavily on his deputy to oversee the firings of U.S. attorneys, appearing to distance himself from his departing second-in-command....

"At the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names," Gonzales told reporters after a speech about Justice Department steps to curb rising violent crime.

"The one person I would care about would be the views of the deputy attorney general, because the deputy attorney general is the direct supervisor of the United States attorneys," Gonzales said.

So after months of Congress asking a simple question -- who ordered the firings? -- Gonzales has finally provided an answer: McNulty.

Except that there's mounds of evidence that the actual driving forces were Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, and all McNulty did was sign the final list. Plus, if Gonzales was so interested in the opinion of the man who oversaw the prosecutors, why did he never consult Jim Comey?

As House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers put it, "With this Justice Department, the buck always stops somewhere else, and the fall guy is always the last guy out of the door."

Now, that's hardly a failing that's limited to Justice, or Republicans, or the current administration. Lesser mortals always take bullets for top officials. But Gonzales appears prepared to sacrifice the entire top leadership of the department, if necessary -- and he is so not worth it.

Speaking of Jim Comey, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, and dropped this bombshell:

On the night of March 10, 2004, a high-ranking Justice Department official rushed to a Washington hospital to prevent two White House aides from taking advantage of the critically ill Attorney General, John Ashcroft, the official testified today.

One of those aides was Alberto R. Gonzales, who was then White House counsel and eventually succeeded Mr. Ashcroft as Attorney General.

“I was very upset,” said James B. Comey, who was deputy Attorney General at the time, in his testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.”

Besides being distasteful, what's the bombshell? This story has been told before.

The New York Times link above lays out the events of the night in gripping detail. But the Washington Post sums up their significance..

The White House three years ago reauthorized a controversial surveillance program, parts of which the Justice Department found to be illegal, overriding the objections of top department officials after failing to get a seriously ill attorney general John D. Ashcroft to sign off on it from his hospital bed, Ashcroft's former deputy told a Senate panel today.

So the White House wanted the Justice Department to say the eavesdropping program was legal. Justice refused. The White House went so far as to send Gonzales to pressure an ailing Ashcroft to sign off on it from his hospital bed, and when both he and Comey refused, the administration decided to reauthorize the program anyway. Only the threat of mass resignations at Justice averted that move.

Justice's approval was not required by law. But its refusal to say the program was legal offers powerful evidence that the program broke the law. Rather than accept the rule of law, the administration ignored the advice of its own lawyers and did what it wanted to do anyway.

The only high-ranking legal mind that decided the program was legal: Alberto Gonzales. The same Gonzales who pressured a sick man to sign a form. The same Gonzales who came up with the legal justification for torture. The same Gonzales who appears to have been almost absent as a manager at Justice, consumed as he was with being a full-time lapdog for Bush. The same Gonzales who lied to Congress, and when confronted with his contradictions retreated into "I don't know" mode about significant departmental events.

Resign already, Fredo.

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