Attorney General Alberto Gonzales goes in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee today as the most embattled high-ranking member of a presidential administration to appear before an oversight panel in decades. That Gonzales has clung to his position in the face of an overwhelming tide of revelations about his own misdeeds and the “take-the-fifth” actions of his lieutenants is a testament not to tenacity but to the closeness of his relationship with his enabling protector, President Bush, and the refusal of the current administration to entertain even baseline standards of accountability.
By any reasonable measure of propriety and practical politics, Gonzales looks to be on the way out. A ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, is already angling for the attorney general’s job and it is difficult to imagine that Hatch will not have it in due course.
That said, the Gonzales testimony is important. Even in full spin mode — and, make no mistake, the attorney general will appear with more lines memorized that a Shakespearean actor — what transpires on Capitol Hill today could go a long way toward defining the future not just of the inquiry into the firings of U.S. Attorneys but of the Bush administration.
To that end, here are ten sets of questions that ought to be asked and answered by Gonzales:
1. Is it true that you have spent most of the past month preparing to give this testimony? Is it true that you have participated in hundreds of hours of practice sessions and reviews of information related to concerns about the politicization of the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys and allegations that sitting and former prosecutors were pressured to use their positions to advance the electoral and policy goals of the Bush White House and the Republican Party? If so, can we assume that you are prepared to provide thorough, detailed and straight-forward testimony without resorting to claims that you do not recall, recognize or understand matters that might reasonably have been expected to arise today?
2. When you took office two years ago, you swore an oath to the obey the Constitution. Is it your understanding that this oath requires you to place the good of the country and the rule of law ahead of the personal and political whims of the president? In other words, do you you consider yourself to serve the president or the republic?
3. If the president or members of his administration proposed using U.S. Attorneys to advance political and policy agendas — by using so-called “voter fraud” investigations to encourage support for legislation tightening Voter ID and registration rules, or by advancing speculative prosecutions of key Democrats or those around them at election time — would that be wrong? In such a circumstance, would you see it as your duty to tell him that such initiatives represent inappropriate and potentially illegal abuses of prosecutorial powers?
4. Did you and the president discuss so-called “voter fraud” investigations and prosecutions in the month before the 2OO6 congressional and state elections? Did the president tell you to ramp up those initiatives? As the head of a department that had access to the most detailed information regarding voting issues nationwide and knowing — as has now been confirmed by investigative reports appearing in the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times and other publications — that there was no real problem with voter fraud, did you explain to the president that pursuing the sorts of investigations and prosecutions he was proposing was wrongheaded? Did you ask the president why he was proposing such initiatives? Did you seek to ascertain whether there was a political motive? Did you take actions in response to his demands?
5. It has been said by the defenders of the firings of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush administration that President Clinton removed all of the U.S. Attorneys in the country when he took office. Isn’t it true that it is standard practice for new presidents to replace U.S. Attorneys when they take office? Didn’t George Bush do this? And is it not true that Clinton retained Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys and acting U.S. Attorneys, including current Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff who was then a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, in their positions until they had completed sensitive inquiries? Why did you not correct this deliberate misconception when it was being spread by members of the Bush administration and its supporters?
6. Were you ever involved in conversations, verbal or digital, in which White House political czar Karl Rove outlined a desire to politicize prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys around the country? Were you ever involved in conversations with state or national Republican party leaders in this regard? Did you ever read memos from state party officials outlining prosecutions they would like to see brought? What actions, if any, did you take to prevent politicized prosecutions? Did concerns about how U.S. Attorneys handled so-called “voter fraud” cases and other political matters weigh in deliberations by you and your aides about whether to retain federal prosecutors?
7. Why is it that so many of the U.S. Attorneys who were fired appear to have been those who faced criticism from state and local Republican officials for failing to advance political prosecutions of Democrats in an election year? What do you know about the statements of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who says that before he was removed from his position he resisted pressure from Congresswoman Heather Wilson, R-New Mexico, and Senator Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, to mount prosecutions of Democrats prior to the November, 2OO6, election in which Wilson was locked in a tight contest with the state’s Democratic Attorney General? Were the alleged contacts by Wilson and Domenici inappropriate? Were you aware of them? Did you seek to investigate them? Why was Iglesias removed? Knowing that several of the other fired U.S. Attorneys can point to similar pressures, is it not reasonable for the Senate to conclude that Iglesias and the rest were removed for political rather than legal or administrative reasons? If not, what can you tell us that would counter concerns raised by fired U.S. Attorneys who had previously been praised by your office?
8. Were any of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired subjected to political pressures. How many of them announced investigations of so-called “voter fraud” cases on a time line that paralleled efforts by Republicans to advance legislation to establish new voter registration and Voter ID laws? How many of them launched prosecutions of top Democrats and people around them on time lines that paralleled election cycles? Were you ever involved in discussions of any kind regarding the political value of advancing such investigations and prosecutions? Did you ever remove a U.S. Attorney after being pressured by Republican officials or lobbyists? Why was the acting U.S. Attorney on Guam, Fred Black, who had launched an investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s activities in the Pacific Island region, removed from his position after Abramoff circulated a complaint that, “I don’t care if they appoint bozo the clown, we need to get rid of Fred Black?” If pressure from Abramoff was not a factor, why was Black, a respected prosecutor who had served under three presidents, removed?
9. Were you aware that the Republican Party of Wisconsin prepared packages of documents, including a lengthy memo outlining proposals for mounting “voter fraud” cases in Milwaukee that were forwarded to Rove’s office in 2OO5 and that Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin who remains on the job, announced in 2OO5 the creation of a high-profile “voter fraud” task force and mounted more than ten percent of all voter fraud cases in the nation — despite the fact that his jurisdiction represents barely one percent of the population and despite the fact that even Biskupic would eventually acknowledge there was no serious “voter fraud” problem there? ,Are you aware that, on a time line paralleling the 2OO6 gubernatorial campaign in Wisconsin, Biskupic prosecuted of a state employee on charges that she directed a state contract to a donor to the campaign of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, that Republicans and their backers mounted an expensive television ad campaign attempting to link Doyle to the woman, and that after the election was done a federal appeals court described the evidence Biskupic used in the case as “beyond thin”?
1O. Were you aware that, on a time line paralleling the 2OO6 U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey, a U.S. Attorney in that state, Chris Christie, began issuing subpoenas aimed at raising questions about the ethics of Bob Menendez, the incumbent senator who was seeking reelection that fall? Are you aware that Christie, a Bush “pioneer” fund raiser and former Republican elected official who has been talked about as a likely Republican statewide candidate, took the rare step of commenting about those subpoenas at the same time that Republicans were mounting an expensive television advertising campaign designed to attack Menendez’s ethics and highlight the issues raised by Christie? Are you aware the inquiry has gone nowhere since Menendez was reelected? Why, Mr. Attorney General, do you think the urgency ended with the end of the election cycle?
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