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GOP to Gonzales: Care For Some Hemlock? | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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GOP to Gonzales: Care For Some Hemlock?

The reviews are in: The Bush White House pronounces the president "pleased" with his solicitor's response to the rabble.

It is a discreet pleasure.

While the president may be satisfied with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the response of just about everyone else -- including some of the nation's most conservative Republicans -- was anything but positive.

The online report on the testimony at the site of the National Review, America's leading conservative magazine, was headlined: "Alberto Gonzales strikes out."

The report declared the Attorney General's testimony about his role in the U.S. Attorneys scandal to have been "disastrous."

"Judging by his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, there are three questions about the U.S. attorneys mess that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants answered: What did I know? When did I know it? And why did I fire those U.S. attorneys?" observed writer Byron York, no liberal he. "As the day dragged on, it became clear -- painfully clear to anyone who supports Gonzales -- that the attorney general didn't know the answers."

For the record, Gonzales hit what many believe to have been a record for "don't recalling" by a Cabinet member appearing before an oversight hearing: 64. And that does not count the dozens of "do-not-remember" and "can't-quite-recollect" variations.

But Gonzales will be worrying less about National Review than about Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. Sure, Democrats were tough on Gonzales, but many of the roughest critiques came from the Attorney General's partisan "allies."

The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, greeted Gonzales Thursday by suggesting that the Attorney General's account of his "limited" involvement in the firing of U.S. Attorneys who appear to have rejected White House political czar Karl Rove's demand that they politicize prosecutions was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."

After the hearing, Specter said, "I think your credibility has been significantly impaired because of the panorama of responses you have made..."

Specter, a veteran prosecutor, said Gonzales' testimony had raised significant questions about his "ability to manage the department has been severely undercut by the way he has handled these resignations."

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, perhaps the most conservative member of the panel, was not left with any questions.

"The best way to put this behind us is your resignation," Coburn told Gonzales.

The Oklahoman rejected the Attorney General's suggestion that he was "taking responsibility" for the mess at the Department of Justice as empty talk. "[There] has to be consequences to accepting responsibility," the senator lectured.

Why the rabid response from senators who by the old rules of George Bush's Washington were supposed to be defending a Republican president's Attorney General?

Gonzales brought it upon himself.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, another veteran prosecutor, said he was "taken aback" by Gonzales' claim that he could not recall a November 2006 meeting at which he joined top Justice Department aides in a discussion of the firings of the U.S. attorneys. "To say he had no recollection whatsoever of that meeting, I have to think about that," said Sessions.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Gonzales during the hearing Thursday: "Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch. I think it's clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House and, you know, we made up reasons to fire them."

Graham did not actually offer Gonzales hemlock. But he did take the embattled Attorney General through a painful thought process.

Noting that Gonzales said the decision to fire the U.S. Attorneys "just came down to these were not the right people at the right time," the senator looked the Attorney General in the eyes and asked: "If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?"

Call it the Gonzales standard. And, now that the Senate has heard from the Attorney General, applying it has led to the bipartisan conclusion that Alberto Gonzales is the wrong man at the wrong time.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

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