Remember Alberto Gonzales? Afraid so.

20 Apr

Public officials in real life can be their SNL caricatures. Listening to Gonzales testify, can certainly leave one with that impression. To say that “Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch,” (NY Times), would be being generous.

Both Republicans and Democrats picked Gonzales apart till he had nowhere to hide, except in the memory sinkhole. Gonzales used the phrase, “I don’t recall” a record 74 times (Nation pegs it at 64 plus numerous instances of “do-not-remember” and “can’t-quite-recollect” variations). It is no wonder I suppose then that he can’t recall Habeas Corpus or the Constitution. The phrase is set to become a “classic”, along with greats like Nixon’s, “I am not a crook” and Clinton’s, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Exasperated senators repeatedly expressed disbelief at Gonzales’ problems with remembering details of important events that happened less than six months ago. “He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes.” (NY Times)

Senators, smelling blood, jabbed him repeatedly with pointed remarks. Sen. Specter (R-PA), thoroughly annoyed with Gonzales’ smart aleck response to the question about whether he was prepared for the press conference in which he stated that he had a ‘limited’ role in the firings, quipped, “I don’t think you’re going to win a debate about your preparation, frankly. But let’s get — let’s get to the facts. I’d like you to win this debate.” The most pointed comment though came from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said say, “I don’t believe that you’re involved in a conspiracy to fire somebody because they wouldn’t prosecute a particular enemy of a politician or a friend of a politician. But at the end of the day, you said something that struck me: that sometimes it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time. If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?”

The Ken Lay defense
“Well, again, as — I accept responsibility for everything that happens here within this department. But when you have 110,000 people working in the department obviously there are going to be decisions that I’m not aware of in real time. Many decisions are delegated. We have people who were confirmed by the Senate who, by statute, have been delegated authority to make decisions.”
DOJ transcript

Memory Hole Defense
“Specter: Were you involved in the decision on the removal of Arkansas US Attorney Bud Cummings as Kyle Sampson testified?
Gonzales: Senator, I have no recollection about that, but I presume that is true.”

I don’t recall but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision
Answering to Sen. Brownback’s question about why he fired Bogden, Gonzales said, “I do not recall what I knew about Mr. Bogden on December 7th. That’s not to say that I wasn’t given a reason; I just don’t recall the reason.”

In the end, Gonzales explained, even though he did not know why he fired Bogden, “I believe it was still the right decision.””

The non-strategy
Gonzales’ strategy was that of equivocation and evasion. As was apparent during the grilling, the strategy didn’t go well. It is a bit surprising why the administration went with this strategy rather than use the partisan card to stifle the debate. The fact is that incompetence looks much worse on television than partisanship. The incompetence strategy left Gonzales exposed on one other key front – it precluded support from even the reliable party hacks like Corbyn and Graham. Gonzales has battled Senate successfully on multiple issues – Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib come to mind – by repeatedly taking out the partisan card. Had the issue been dealt with by Republicans in a way in which they could show that it was assertive defiant partisanship that led to the firings, they would have withstood the assault better.

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