Thursday, April 19, 2007

Today's Senate Hearings with Attorney General Gonzales

I have been listening closely to the Senate Hearings on NPR in which Attorney General Gonzales is being grilled on the firings of the US attorneys. The questions (with the exception of those by Sen. Cornyn the "box turtle [*]" pretending to be a Senator from Texas) have been sharp and direct.

Gonzales' responses have been imprecise, frequently going off on tangents that appear to have only the twin purposes of making the Attorney General look better and using up the time each Senator has to ask questions, and often contradictory. My impression is that Gonzales was not involved in the process of running the office. He made "decisions" primarily based on the recommendations of his subordinates - and though he dares not say so, probably at the direction of Bush and Rove from the White House. He repeatedly testified that he did not ask his subordinates the basis of their recommended decisions.

Yet he stated repeatedly that he takes responsibility for the decisions he made. Senator Lindsey Graham nailed it when he asked (paraphrased) "Is it fair to say that you depended on your subordinates to have good reasons for the decisions they recommended and never questioned the basis they used for those decisions?" When Gonzales replied "Yes." Sen. Graham went on "And you never considered that some of the US attorneys you were firing might be on the list because they somehow raised the ire of someone on your staff?"

At this point Gonzales stumbled and then agreed that the scenario Sen. Graham presented was possible.

Then towards the end of this mornings' session Attorney General Gonzales was asked if, considering his credibility problems with members of Congress, it might be best if he resigned, Gonzales energetically stated that he did not think he should resign. That he had a great deal more [unspecified] to offer the Department of Justice and he wanted to stay on to accomplish those things.

When the Senate Committee adjourned for lunch, one NPR reporter made a point of stating that while hearings like this often were contentious and highly emotional, this was the first time that many of the Senators involved appeared to pity Gonzales more than simply be angry with him. The pity, the reporter continued, was because of the feeling that had frequently been mentioned on the Hill that Gonzales was a "Dead man walking."

That is my impression so far. For more on the hearings, go to TPM Muckraker. See also Gonzales And The Profound Lie by Rick Perlstein.

Addendum 2:17 PM CDT
I rarely ever agree with Byron York at the Corner of NRO, but this time he has it right.
The major problem with his testimony is that Gonzales maintains, in essence, that he doesn’t know why he fired at least some of the eight dismissed U.S. attorneys. When, under questioning by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, Gonzales listed the reasons for each firing, it was clear that in a number of cases, he had reconstructed the reason for the dismissal after the fact. He didn’t know why he fired them at the time, other than the action was recommended by senior Justice Department staff.
I will say I don't think this is the major problem with his testimony, it certainly sits close to the top of Gonzales' many, many problems.

[*]An old Texas joke.
What do you know if you are driving in the country and see a box turtle sitting on top of a fence post? Several things. You know:
  • he has no purpose there,
  • he didn't get there by himself, and
  • he can't get down by himself.
"Box turtle" is one of the nicer things that Sen. John Cornyn has been called.

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