Give Attorney General Alberto Gonzales credit. To a far greater extent than many in Washington have even now come to recognize, he acknowledged in an opening statement prepared for his appearance today before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the scandal swirling around him involves a lot more than the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.
Of course, the acknowledgment came in the form of another self-serving denial of any wrongdoing by the embattled Attorney General. “I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain,” Gonzales claimed. “I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason.”
But that reference to concerns about whether decisions were being made at the Department of Justice for “partisan political gain” goes to the very heart of what the U.S. Attorneys scandal is all about. And there can be little question that, while it surely was not his intent, Gonzales in the course of his torturously vague testimony confirmed the worst fears about the politicization of decisions made by his department regarding who should serve as federal prosecutors and what they should be prosecuting.
The Attorney General prepared for weeks in hopes that his appearance before the Judiciary Committee would restore at least a measure of confidence in his management of the Department of Justice. But he did not succeed. Little in his testimony appeared to inspire confidence among Democratic or Republican senators — even a Gonzales ally, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn today told the Attorney General that his handling of issues raised by the current controversy was “deplorable” — and it should not inspire confidence among Americans who have good reason to suspect that the Bush administration used federal prosecutors to advance electoral and policy agendas.
While Gonzales told the Senate he had “never sought to mislead” the Congress and the American people, he essentially admitted that he had failed to provide full or accurate information to the Congress and the American people. “To be sure,” he said, “I should have been more precise in discussing this matter.”
The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, compared the “never sought to mislead” and “should have been more precise” lines and then suggested that the Attorney General was continuing a pattern of “not being candid.”