Attorney General Alberto Gonzales goes in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee today as the most embattled high-ranking member of a presidential administration to appear before an oversight panel in decades. That Gonzales has clung to his position in the face of an overwhelming tide of revelations about his own misdeeds and the “take-the-fifth” actions of his lieutenants is a testament not to tenacity but to the closeness of his relationship with his enabling protector, President Bush, and the refusal of the current administration to entertain even baseline standards of accountability.
By any reasonable measure of propriety and practical politics, Gonzales looks to be on the way out. A ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, is already angling for the attorney general’s job and it is difficult to imagine that Hatch will not have it in due course.
That said, the Gonzales testimony is important. Even in full spin mode — and, make no mistake, the attorney general will appear with more lines memorized that a Shakespearean actor — what transpires on Capitol Hill today could go a long way toward defining the future not just of the inquiry into the firings of U.S. Attorneys but of the Bush administration.
To that end, here are ten sets of questions that ought to be asked and answered by Gonzales:
1. Is it true that you have spent most of the past month preparing to give this testimony? Is it true that you have participated in hundreds of hours of practice sessions and reviews of information related to concerns about the politicization of the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys and allegations that sitting and former prosecutors were pressured to use their positions to advance the electoral and policy goals of the Bush White House and the Republican Party? If so, can we assume that you are prepared to provide thorough, detailed and straight-forward testimony without resorting to claims that you do not recall, recognize or understand matters that might reasonably have been expected to arise today?
2. When you took office two years ago, you swore an oath to the obey the Constitution. Is it your understanding that this oath requires you to place the good of the country and the rule of law ahead of the personal and political whims of the president? In other words, do you you consider yourself to serve the president or the republic?
3. If the president or members of his administration proposed using U.S. Attorneys to advance political and policy agendas — by using so-called “voter fraud” investigations to encourage support for legislation tightening Voter ID and registration rules, or by advancing speculative prosecutions of key Democrats or those around them at election time — would that be wrong? In such a circumstance, would you see it as your duty to tell him that such initiatives represent inappropriate and potentially illegal abuses of prosecutorial powers?