The termination of eight federal prosecutors has been compared by supporters of the Bush administration to the abrupt dismissal of all 93 US Attorneys by Bill Clinton in 1993. Today, they may be comparing Alberto Gonzales' use of the word "involved" to Clinton's questioning of the definition of "is" after a memo shows that Gonzales had more connection with the termination process than he claimed:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with senior aides on Nov. 27 to review a plan to fire a group of U.S. attorneys, according to documents released last night, a disclosure that contradicts Gonzales's previous statement that he was not involved in "any discussions" about the dismissals.
Justice Department officials also announced last night that the department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility have launched a joint investigation into the firings, including an examination of whether any of the removals were improper and whether any Justice officials misled Congress about them.
The hour-long November meeting in the attorney general's conference room included Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and four other senior Justice officials, including the Gonzales aide who coordinated the firings, then-Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson, records show.
Documents detailing the previously undisclosed meeting appear to conflict with remarks by Gonzales at a March 13 news conference in which he portrayed himself as a CEO who had delegated to Sampson responsibility for the particulars of firing eight U.S. attorneys.
"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," Gonzales said.
Ah, the storied Friday afternoon document dump. It's an honored tradition in Washington, and it usually indicates that the dumper understands the political damage contained within the material. In this case, the dumpers have it right. Not only does this emphasize the fact that Gonzales and Justice have misled people on this issue, it also shows that the initial 18-day gap in documentation trumpeted by TPM Muckraker and critics of the administration actually had some significance after all.
Is there any other manner in which the Department of Justice can look any more untruthful and deceptive? Apparently so, because the Justice spokesperson now wants to argue about the meaning of the word "involved". Alberto Gonzales told the press on March 13 that he was "not involved in any discussions about what was going on" regarding the terminations. The description adopted by his supporters was that Gonzales acts as a CEO, delegating authority to his staffers and allowing them to act independently, Now we have Tasia Scolinos attempting to sell the notion that the definition of "not involved in any discussions" somehow includes attending the meeting where the decisions were made -- but not absorbing any of the details of the process.
Have we had enough yet? I understand the argument that if we allow the Democrats to bounce Gonzales, they'll just aim for more, but Gonzales made himself the target here with what looks like blatant deception. I don't think we do ourselves any good by defending the serially changing stories coming out of Gonzales' inept administration at Justice. One cannot support an Attorney General who misleads Congress, allows his staffers to mislead Congress, and deceives the American people, regardless of whether an R or a D follows his name or the majority control of Congress.
When the story broke about the NSA terrorist surveillance program, Bush did not hide behind a morphable definition of "is" or "involved". He stood at the podium and told the press that he damned well did order the surveillance program and that he broke no laws in doing so. In that manner, he turned the leak into a net positive, showing that he had the courage of his convictions and that he intended nothing more than the security of the nation.
Alberto Gonzales and his team has done the exact opposite, and have thrown gasoline on a fire -- no, not a fire, but a mere spark that would have been a two-day story otherwise. Gonzales needs to go.
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg gets critical e-mail for saying that Gonzales lied. He allows that Gonzales may have been "deeply confused":
Okay, he may simply have been deeply, deeply, confused, out of touch and unprepared to give a press conference which was supposed to put an end to the "scandal" and instead poured gasoline on it at a time when his boss, the President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief, had vastly more important things to deal with. Maybe, just maybe, a good "CEO" would have asked his staff, "Hey, before I unequivocally tell the world I was out of the loop, let's double check and make sure I wasn't in the loop. Okay?"
Either he's been deceptive or incompetent. There really is no third choice.
UPDATE II: As good as the argument of "innocent until proven guilty" sounds, it doesn't apply here. I'm not arguing Gonzales commited a crime; I'm saying he's been deceptive and/or incompetent, neither of which is commendable in the nation's top law-enforcement officer. One doesn't need to be convicted to be fired, which the eight federal prosecutors could tell you from personal experience.
At this point, the notion that Bush has to retain Gonzales to protect himself and Republicans in general is starting to become absurd. Gonzales inflicted most of this damage on the administration himself, and the longer he remains, the more damage he will do. As Jonah said, it's hard to find a worse example of self-inflicted damage outside of circus tents.
Gonzales' dismissal/resignation would not do any more damage to Republicans than has already occurred. If we have to defend incompetents and/or deceivers as critical to the Republican cause, then be prepared for a disastrous 2008. Offering Clintonian word-parsing as a defense does nothing to help the cause of conservatism.
UPDATE III: Tom Maguire has had enough, too:
They don't know if they had a final target list on Nov 27, even though the plan had been sent over for White House approval on Nov 15?
Since a key part of the process meant to be managed by the White House (i.e., Karl Rove) was the politics of soothing the home-state Senators of the fired US Attorneys, how could the list sent to the White House have not included the final names?
And how could we be expected to believe that Harriet Miers and Gonzales' chief of staff came up with a list without Gonzales reviewing it at some point? Who is in charge?
And his aides can't remember if he approved it? Geez, as the old television broadcast used to say, due to technical difficulties the Invisible Man will not be seen tonight. And the Invisible Boss will not be heard from at DoJ.
He wants Gonzales to go, just for the ineptitude, if not for the deception.