Engaged in a fight to keep his job, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is testifying today before a Senate Judiciary Committee that at best could be described as skeptical, but more realistically their tone is angry. Except for the soft and friendly questions of complete Bush administration loyalist Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Gonzales has faced harsh criticism from Democrats and Republicans a like. The hearing started with the opening statement of committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
Sen. Leahy said, â€œThe White House political operatives who helped spearhead this plan did not have effective and objective law enforcement as their principal goal. They would be happy to reduce United States Attorneys offices to another political arm of the Administration. If nothing improper was done, people need to stop hiding the facts and need to tell the truth, the whole truth. If the White House did nothing wrong, then show us. Show us the documents and provide us with the sworn testimony of what was done â€“ why, and by whom. If there is nothing to hide, then the White House should quit hiding it. Quit claiming the e-mails cannot be produced and quit contending that the American people and their duly elected representatives cannot see and know the truth.â€
Attorney General Gonzales has continued to stand by his defense that the firings were justified, and that he had little to do with the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys. Gonzales wrote in his opening statement, â€œAt this point, we can all agree that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. We further should agree on a definition of what an â€œimproperâ€ reason for the removal of a U.S. Attorney would be. As former Acting Solicitor General and Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger has stated, an improper reason would be: â€œThe replacement of one or more U.S. attorneys in order to impede or speed along particular criminal investigations for illegitimate reasons.â€â€
Â Gonzales continued, â€œI agree with that. Stated differently, the Department of Justice makes decisions based on the evidence, not whether the target is a Republican or a Democrat. For the benefit of the Committee as well as for the American people, I would like to be abundantly clear about the decision to request the resignations of eight (of the 93) United States Attorneys â€“ each of whom had served his or her full four-year term of office: I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain. I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. Attorney for an improper reason.â€
Republican Arlen Specter (R-PA) warned Gonzales that his credibility is on the line in this hearing. “We have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright,â€ Specter said. He characterized Gonzalesâ€™ description of events as, “significantly if not totally at variance with the facts.” Gonzales maintained through out the morning portion of his testimony that he was not greatly involved in the decision making process behind the firings of the U.S. attorneys.
Gonzalesâ€™ performance thus far has been less than confidence inspiring. At least 55 times in the morning he was asked questions, and his answer was, â€œI donâ€™t recall.â€ Â Gonzalesâ€™ defense thus far seems to be that he screwed up, but that the firings were justified. At best, this hearing is making it look like the Department of Justice is completely mismanaged. At worst Gonzales looks like that he is in over his head, and that he is nothing more than another incompetent Bush crony who was trying to carry out a political agenda. I still donâ€™t see how Gonzales is going to survive this and keep his job.
Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com. Â His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics
Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse