Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has lied so many times and in so many circumstances that he now finds himself lying about the lies.
All of his deceptive statements have been uttered in an official capacity, many of them under oath.
But as lawless as his language has been, the actions of the attorney general may well be the more serious of his high crimes and misdemeanors. Indeed, the worst crime of Alberto Gonzales may be that — with the revelations about his ghoulish visit to the sickbed of his Constitutionally-inclined predecessor — this attorney general has actually forced millions of Americans to wrap their heads around the notion John Ashcroft may have been, at least by comparison, a good guy.
What this all adds up to is the most sordid circumstance of a sitting Cabinet member since Albert Bacon Fall, Warren’s Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, tried to talk his way out of the Teapot Dome scandal. Fall was notoriously “so crooked they had to screw him into the ground” when he died.
With Gonzales, it is hard to say whether he is crooked or delusional, or both.
But one thing is certain: The attorney general’s determination to cling to his office at this point marks him as a man who poses a threat not merely to his own reputation but to the Department of Justice, which is degenerating into crisis as top administrators exit at an alarming rate, and to the rule of law in America.
George Bush, who has been linked to many if not all of the scandals that have so vexed Gonzales, is not about to ask his former White House counsel to vacate his current digs at Justice.
So it falls to Congress to act. And while a proposed Senate vote of “no confidence” might finally tip the balance against Gonzales, it is certainly appropriate to prepare for the next act of the sorry soap opera that the attorney general’s tenure has become.
The founders established clear procedures for impeaching members of the Cabinet. “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” reads Article 2, Section 4, of the Constitution.
No serious scholar of the original intent of the authors of the essential document of the American experiment would question that the seemingly vague “high crimes and misdemeanors” section refers to precisely the sort of deceptive and destructive activities in which Gonzales has engaged. There is simply no question that lying to Congress is an impeachable offense, and there is every reason to believe that rendering the department you head fully dysfunctional should be.