Friday, April 20, 2007

Gonzales = toast

The NY Times has a good editorial today on the Alberto Gonzales testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. It was a shambles. The White House is attempting to spin it their way ("Hey, only 1 Republican Senator called for his resignation! That's a win!"). The Times does a better job at summing up my feelings after listening to 45 minutes of the hearing in the car:

Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.

He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes...

And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony...

Some of his answers were merely laughable.

For videos of the testimony, check out TPMmuckraker. They have an extensive, albeit not complete, archive.

What amazed me when I listened to this hearing was the fact that Gonzales had a month and a half to prepare for them and it sounded like he hadn't done his homework. When I hear members of an administration give Congressional testimony, I expect to hear lies and half truths. Usually said members are in a cover your ass mode that almost demands this approach. Still, over the years I've come to expect such testimony to be shrouded in polished language and tones.

Yesterday, Gonzales offered up what I like to call the "Reagan Defense". When the Iran Contra scandal broke in the late 1980s, Reagan's main defense was saying that he couldn't remember much of the proceedings leading up to the scandal. To back him up, members of his cabinet even stated that the President occasionally fell asleep during meetings. This did little to tarnish the image of "The Great Communicator". In fact, his reputation has only grown since he left office. Perhaps this is best explained by the fact that Ronald Reagan was an elderly man and in subsequent years we found out that he also had Alzheimer's.

Gonzales, however, had neither old age nor Alzheimer's to come to his defense. Yet, he repeatedly invoked the Reagan Defense throughout his testimony yesterday. If one could capture as sound bites his use of the words "I don't recall" and it's variations and mash them together, one could easily make an extended mix dance record of them. I wouldn't be surprised if someone could make a 20 minute mix without repeating one sound bite.

For instance, Gonzales stated emphatically that he made the decision to fire the US Attorneys. When asked when that decision was made, he stated that he couldn't recall. When confronted with testimony from his former chief of staff that a meeting took place on November 27th that finalized the plans for the firings and that Gonzales attended, the AG said that he couldn't recall the meeting. When further evidence was introduced, including notes from the Justice Department that the meeting took place and that Gonzales was there along with a number of other officials, the AG said that he had seen those notes, but couldn't recall the meeting. Yet he could recall attending the swearing in of the President of Mexico earlier that week along with a number of other things that happened prior to the meeting in question. Charles Schumer, senator from New York, asked Gonzales if he could really recall making the decision and Gonzales stumbled over words in his answer.

Even Republican Senators were having difficulty with Gonzales. They attempted to toss him softball questions, expecting direct replies. The idea, as we've seen before from both parties, is to toss the easy questions, get direct responses, offer up how this is a witch hunt, and protect the witness and the White House. Again, look at how Orin Hatch handled Oliver North during the Iran Contra scandal to see how this is expertly done. Several Republican senators attempted to do just this with Gonzales. They'd ask about specific attorneys, for instance. The replies that they'd get would be less than adequate. In fact, the replies were downright shameful for a man whose had over a month to prepare for such hearings. Gonzales inevitably fell back on either the Reagan Defense or the one mentioned in this post that I made over the weekend: that decisions in Gonzales' Justice Department are made by consensus in order that no one has to take the blame.

Gonzales stated several times that the list of US Attorneys to be fired was compiled by a consensus of senior department officials. When pressed what the criteria of such decisions was, Gonzales stated that he wasn't sure, but that the senior department officials were the closest to the US Attorneys and therefore best qualified to make such decisions. When it was pointed out then, that perhaps these senior officials really made the decision, Gonzales objected saying that he made the decision. When asked whether he inquired as to what the criteria were for basing those decisions, Gonzales said that he didn't know or couldn't recall. The senior department officials that came to the consensus would know.

It was painful to hear Gonzales yesterday. He clearly wasn't prepared for the hearing. He appeared incompetent and disingenuous. None of the Democrats was friendly towards him and 4 of the 9 Republicans turned on him. It's easy to understand why his fellow Republicans did that: they didn't want to be associated with such a display. Those senators know that Gonzales is toast. Burnt toast...made from moldy bread with rancid butter. I was incredulous at what I heard. The sooner Gonzales and his minions are gone, the better this country will be...unless, of course, Bush can find someone worse for the job. He has a talent for that.

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