What do the following statements about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — the embattled presidential appointee at the center of a growing scandal over the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to politicize their prosecutions –have in common?
1. “The Justice Department has bungled this attorney thing. There’s no question about it. There’s no excuse for it.”
2. [You] cannot have the nation’s chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility.”
3. “The Attorney General has been wounded because of his performance, not because of politics … He has said some things that don’t add up.”
4. “If we find out he’s not been candid and truthful, that’s a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.”
Answer: They were all made over the weekend by Republican members of the U.S. Senate; Utah’s Orrin Hatch, Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, respectively.
Specter, it should be noted, is the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hatch is a former chairman of the committee and Graham serves on its Administrative Oversight subcommittee. Hagel sits on the powerful Rules Committee and remains a GOP presidential prospect.
No, these key Republicans have not officially joined the rising chorus of calls for Gonzales to step down immediately — a chorus led by New Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu, who has said that if the Attorney General will not leave willingly he “should be fired.”
But their statements do put the lie to continuing claims by White House apologists in the media that “there is no scandal.”
Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly may want Americans to believe that “the U.S. attorney thing is absurd, a fabricated event designed to hurt the president and make it easier for the Democrats to consolidate their power and elect a president in 2008.”
But that line is a tough sell when the Senate’s leading Republicans — partisans want to support the Bush administration in general and Attorney General Gonzales in particular — say things like: “The Attorney General has been wounded because of his performance, not because of politics…”
The fact is that Gonzales is finished.
The casual question of the moment is no longer “if?” but “when?” will the Attorney General exit the Department of Office.
The more serious question for observers of the Bush administration crack up is a more fundamental and far-reaching one: Who if anyone will this presidential loyalist — a man with no track record of acting on his own in matters of the law or politics — take with him when he goes down?
John Nichols’ new book is