In the Mud with Alberto Gonzalez

by Laura Snedeker

Exit Alberto Gonzales, enemy of corruption and crusader against terrorists everywhere.

The embattled attorney general, the second Bush administration official to cut and run in less than a month, resigned Monday to mournful goodbyes and sighs of relief. The president wasted no time before setting the record crooked: “It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

Attorneys general may come and go, but the president’s truth remains the same. Mr. Bush either lives in an elaborately concocted fantasy world shielded from reality by his advisors, or he strongly believes that “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Talented? Honorable? Gonzales was perfectly capable of dragging his own name through the mud. This is the same man who wrote the Justice Department memos authorizing torture at Gitmo* and set up secret military courts.

The president speaks often of sacrifice in the so-called War on Terror, but the nature of this sacrifice is uncertain. Gonzales had no choice but to resign. Faced with increasingly uncomfortable Senate questioning over his role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and warrantless wiretapping, he showed himself to be either a liar or an incompetent boob unfit for service.

If Gonzales lied under oath about his involvement in illegal political espionage, then he perjured himself and could be jailed. He has now removed himself as the main focus of that investigation. In addition, the longer the Senate hearings continued, the greater the chance became that he would either contradict himself or implicate the president. On the other hand, if he truly did not recall as many events as he claimed, then his faulty memory severely limited his ability to function as the nation’s top prosecutor.

The White House and the Senate have reached a stalemate: Gonzales is gone, so if the Senate is merely satisfied with his departure, it can move the investigation to the backburner. Democrats claim they will “get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House,” (as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada put it) but Democratic leaders have indicated time and time again that impeachment is too divisive. Once an investigation reaches the White House, there’s too much momentum to stop it before impeachment becomes a political necessity.

President George W. Bush may regret the departure of the last of his Texas-era loyalists, but few on either side of the aisle miss him. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) insisted that while Gonzales hadn’t committed any crimes, he did “make management missteps” and “didn’t handle the spotlight well when they were exposed.” Gonzales wasn’t cool enough under pressure.

Perhaps Gonzales quit to save the party’s 2008 election chances. Candidates must distance themselves from the president and his minions while upholding their political strategy and must defend the excesses of the “War on Terror” while condemning the excesses of the administration.

Two top officials have now resigned before the Labor Day deadline set by White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, set to create stability during the final stretch for a lame duck president. The first to leave this month, Karl Rove was a political manipulator; Gonzales was a Bush loyalist who helped the president get out of jury duty and cover up a DUI. His comical answers before the Senate were largely interpreted as a cover for the president, and his departure signals a loss of faith in the administration by even the most loyal.

Gonzales was always expendable, which is why it was he who fielded the Senate’s questions and not the president. Like another war, the fight for the Bush administration’s legacy is lost whether Gonzales stays until the bitter end or not, but it is better for him personally to declare the battle over and watch the fallout from a distance.

*Gitmo is the military abbreviation for the U.S. military's base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

(Editorial graphic courtesy of DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)

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