(Photo of angel statue giving a thumbs down via R80o.)
Alberto Gonzales did not have the best day yesterday, did he? In fact, from where I sat watching the entire hearing from start to finish, it was difficult, combative and nasty — and that was just when the Republican Senators were asking questions.
Although, frankly, there has been a fairly long string of bad days of late. There was that letter from several prominant libertarian conservatives calling on him to resign because he is an incompetent political shill who doesn't uphold the Constitution. Ouch. There is the letter from a number of DoJ employees to Congress detailing how politicized even the college intern program has become in terms of hiring — not based on merit, but based on political affilation and activity — including detailing where to find all the evidence thereon. Double ouch. There is the rising number of questions about the gutting of the civil rights division at the DoJ, and the politicization of the cases that are prosecuted so that they are skewed toward suppressing minority and poor voters' rights.
A DOJ process that exalts partisan political loyalty over independence and fairness is a fundamentally flawed one. Political blinders are critical to a prosecutor because, without them, important decisions about how cases are investigated and prosecuted can be hijacked by improper considerations with tangible (even tragic) consequences. Naturally, this is most critical in political corruption cases, the legitimacy of which hinges on the political independence of the prosecutive team's work.
In corruption cases, the potential for partisan shenanigans may arise in two different ways, each of which disserves the interests of justice. First, partisan prosecutors might ignore credible allegations of corruption because they fear embarrassing their political party or patron. Second, partisan prosecutors might pursue flimsy allegations for political purposes….
We have heard as a defense of the summary dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys that all U.S. attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the president." And that, of course, is true. But they must never serve only to please the president. U.S. attorneys serve the people of the United States. (emphasis mine)
I bring this up because Sen. Whitehouse used this so effectively in yesterday's hearing during his questioning of the Attorney General. (Whitehouse, I have to say, was very impressive in terms of his personal command of the situation — having so recently been a USAtty in Rhode Island.) Alberto Gonzales either did not get this crucial point — or he was being deliberately obtuse throughout the day yesterday in an effort to refuse to acknowledge that this was the very sin that he and his political appointee minions have attempted to foist on the Department of Justice at the behest of some as-yet-not-publicly-identified-by-the-AG political opportunists at the White House and the DoJ.
While Alberto Gonzales bears substantial responsibility for allowing himself to be used as a political tool in his position at the DoJ, he was not the only person who was acting in this way — and, thus, should not be the only person who faces consequences for this perversion of the justice system. The actions taken, and their ever-widening consequences, are as offensive as they are wrong to anyone who has ever tried to uphold the standards of integrity and justice in enforcing the rule of law that any decent prosecutor should adhere to in the performance of their duties.
And it was appallingly clear yesterday — in very stark terms — just how little the Attorney General of the United States either knew or cared to answer with regard to specifics. Repeating a mantra over and over again that he was responsible is merely stating the obvious. And anyone who has any commitment at all to the notions of justice and honesty and integrity ought to be appalled by his performance.
Dana Milbank has a sketch of the Committee proceedings that includes some color commentary on the AG's demeanor that really brings home just how squirmy and weaselly the non-answer tap dance was yesterday:
The hearing was billed as Gonzales's chance to explain the contradictions, omissions and falsehoods in his response to the firings. But instead of contrition, the attorney general treated the committee to a mixture of arrogance, combativeness and amnesia. Even his would-be defenders on the Republican side were appalled….
For much of the very long day, the attorney general responded like a child caught in a lie. He shifted his feet under the table, balled his hands into fists and occasionally pointed at his questioners. He defended his actions: "The decision stands." He denied responsibility: "This was a process that was ongoing that I did not have transparency into." He blamed the victims: "Poor judgment . . . poor management." He blamed his subordinates: "When there are attacks against the department, you're attacking the career professionals."
Mostly, though, he retreated to memory loss. He was asked about the firing of the Arkansas U.S. attorney. "I have no recollection about that." The Nevada prosecutor? "I just don't recall the reason." The western Michigan U.S. attorney? "I don't recall."
You know what is most offensive? That whole "if you criticize our many disgusting failures, you are criticizing the USAttys" malarky. You want offensive — how about asking yourself how the USAttys feel having their integrity called into question now because the political stooges at the DoJ and the WH didn't have the decency or the foresight to realize that a hack firing job like this would bring all of the Rove's shop politicization efforts to the fore? How about the fact that decent, hard-working USAttys were fired not because they lacked competence in their jobs, but because they didn't kiss the ass of Rove enough to keep him happy? How about the fact that getting along with the political toadies was more important that following the evidence and making honest and decent decisions based on the facts and not the ramifications of the case for the political winds down the road?
And yes, if you are wondering, I am well and truly disgusted by this whole, sorry smarmfest of a saga.
As is the NYtimes, apparently, whose blistering editorial on the subject is a must read this morning. I have rarely if ever seen that level of fury and disgust on an editorial page — and rarely have I seen a performance which deserved it more than yesterday's abysmal "I don't recall" fiasco.