The man leading
not to know what his
own top officials are
The American Spark
Gonzales 'Over His Head In This Job'
By Cliff Montgomery - Mar. 27th, 2007
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants it both ways.
Gonzales recently took responsibility for "mistakes" related to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, but
simultaneously claimed that he should not be held responsible for the firings, which by the hour appear to have
been strictly motivated by politics rather than common sense. Democrats accuse him of lying to Congress, but
he has rejected calls for his resignation.
"I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility," Gonzales said.
"I stand by the decision, and I think it was a right decision," he added.
But Gonzales may come to dread saying those words. His statements came just after the Justice Department
released emails and other documents which verify that the firings were heavily influenced by administration
assessments of the prosecutors' political "loyalty", despite months of administration denials. The documents
also show that the White House initiated the firing process over two years ago.
And according to administration officials, Bush and senior White House hit man Karl Rove separately passed
along complaints to Gonzales that prosecutors were not aggressively pursuing voter-fraud cases involving
The revelations prompted another outcry from both sides of the congressional aisle over the firings and
another round of demands for Gonzales' resignation from top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).
"It appears he's over his head in this job," Reid quipped to the Washington Post.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett told the Post that Bush has "all the confidence in the world" in Gonzales.
Of course, at the height of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, Bush said that then-FEMA head Michael Brown was
doing "a heck of a job," so this does not inspire confidence.
Democrats also called for actual testimony from both Rove and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel
who first suggested in February 2005 the removal of all 93 U.S. attorneys.
Miers' suggestion was so bizarre, even this White House at first seemed aghast at the idea.
However, the Bush Administration did eventually pare down the idea of the prosecutor firings to about a
dozen, as Miers' office was subsequently provided with evolving lists of at least a dozen prosecutors targeted
Recently-released emails also show that White House deputy political director Scott Jennings wrote Justice
officials about the appointment of Tim Griffin--a former Rove aide--to be the U.S. attorney in Little Rock,
Jennings used an email account registered to the Republican National Committee, where Griffin had worked
as a researcher who specialized in digging up dirt on Democratic opponents.
Seven U.S. attorneys were fired on Dec. 7th, and another was dismissed months earlier, with almost no
explanation from Justice Department officials. Justice officials later told Congress that the firings were due to
poor performance while in office.
That's when things started to break down. First, it was discovered that most of the prosecutors supposedly
fired for "poor performance" seemed to have had positive job reviews before dismissal. Now there is growing
evidence of prosecutor intimidation--including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides--as
well as apparent threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official.
Presidents Bush and Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon first taking office. But legal experts
and former prosecutors agree that the firing of a large number of prosecutors in the middle of a term is
apparently unprecedented, and dangerously threatens the independence of prosecutors.
Perhaps looking for a fall guy, Gonzales and the White House have tried to lay much of the blame for
'miscommunication' with Congress on Kyle Sampson, who resigned Mar. 12th as Gonzales' chief of staff.
Gonzales, comparing himself to a chief executive who delegates responsibility to others, claimed he knew little
about how Sampson was orchestrating the prosecutor dismissals.
"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," he
stated. "That's basically what I knew as the attorney general."
This is essentially the "Ken Lay" defense: When all else fails, argue that you are grossly incompetent at
overseeing the major actions of those under you--in short, that you just can't handle the primary duty of any
chief executive--and hope people will take pity.
But a wildly incompetent boss is no better than a sleazy one. The argument didn't work for the former CEO of
Enron, and we doubt it's going to work any better for Gonzales.