It is too bad that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson made such a big deal last week about how he was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

If Thompson, a lawyer who served as served as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee and now plays a big-city prosecutor on the NBC television series Law & Order, was not so busy positioning himself for the presidency, he could have added another line to his resume: Attorney General of the United States.

In Washington, where the discussion about Alberto Gonzales’ removal has moved from “if” to “when” speculation, the talk is already turning to the question of who will take over for the scandal-plagued Attorney General. Gonzales is in such deep trouble for lying to the Senate that even Republican loyalists are starting to give up on the prospect that he can survive the scrutiny that is coming his way.

According to US News & World Report, the ruminations on replacing Gonzales have centered on the appeal of: “a seasoned insider, a consummate veteran or an elder statesman who has bipartisan respect and acceptance and a squeaky-clean record.”

As savvy political observer Ron Gunzberger notes, “[It] sounds like former US Senator Fred Thompson could possibly fit that description, but he seems to have other plans these days.”

The serious talk about who will take over for Gonzales focuses on former Solicitor General and veteran Washington fixer Ted Olson; Larry Thompson, a former US attorney for the northern District of Georgia and led the Southeastern Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force before serving as Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft during President Bush’s first term; and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who as a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals before being named an assistant U.S. Attorney General under Ashcroft.

That’s a dubious trio.

Olson played a critical role in “electing” Bush in the fall of 2000, when he argued the then-Republican nominee’s brief in the Florida recount case of Bush v. Gore before a Republican-heavy US Supreme Court. As an assistant Attorney General in the 1980s, Olson defended then-President Ronald Reagan’s role in the Iran-Contra affair.

Larry Thompson signed the October, 2002, order that rejected concerns about torture and ordered the removal of Canadian Maher Arar from the U.S. custody in a move that would ultimately land Arar in Syria. After the O.K. from Thompson, Arar was secretly flown to Jordan and then driven into Syria, where he was indeed tortured. After an international outcry, Arar’s name was finally cleared in 2006 by a Canadian Commission of Inquiry.

Chertoff is, of course, the co-author of the USA PATRIOT Act. And, as the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division under Ashcroft, he advised the Central Intelligence Agency on how to avoid liability for torture, er, “coercive interrogation.”

Come to think of it, Fred Thompson may be the only prospective replacement for Gonzales who – aside from an off night on TV — has not been directly involved in shredding the Constitution.


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.'”