Friday, May 25, 2007

What Would it Take for Bush to Lose Confidence in Gonzales?

That's not entirely a rhetorical question. After the AG's dismal performances in his testimony before both houses of Congress, President Bush praised him. Yesterday he stated that “Attorney General Gonzales has testified; he produced documents,” and demanded that Congress “move expeditiously to finish their hearings.” In response to a question about whether the Justice Department might not be better served by different leadership, the President invoked the Department's ongoing internal investigation. “This will be an exhaustive investigation,” he said. “And if there’s wrongdoing, it will be taken care of.”

This approach is reminiscent of the President's statements regarding the Plame affair. When it first became apparent that someone in the Administration had leaked the name of a CIA agent for the purpose of undermining her whistle-blowing husband, Bush took the high road, vowing to fire anyone involved. Then, as Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's investigation proceeded, the President changed his approach. He said that "if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration." Leaking Plame's identity was no longer a firing offense; only criminal conduct was.

Can we now expect a similar effort to define malfeasance down for the AG? Suppose that the Justice Dept's internal investigation reveals that Gonzales did in fact play a substantial role in dismissing US Attorneys for partisan reasons but that this was not a crime, or not the sort of crime that warrants prosecution. Perhaps the President will then say that Gonzales has been cleared. If the investigation does lead to the conclusion that Gonzales should be prosecuted, well, the Justice Department itself couldn't bring the case, so we would need a special prosecutor. And of course, it wouldn't be fair to Gonzales to boot him from office just because of an indictment. Innocent until proven guilty, right? So at the worst Bush and Gonzales can run out the clock. Win/win.

12 comments:

Tam said...

At Rumsfeld's firing ceremony, Cheney called him the greatest Secretary of Defense we've ever had. Tom Friedman pointed that out this either means that the President just fired, during the worst national security crisis in our nation's history and during the middle of a major war, the greatest Secretary of Defense we've ever had (the one guy that could've helped!), or he thinks that we're all walking around with a sign on our foreheads that reads "Stupid."

I'm just surprised the President hasn't told Gonzie that he's doing a heckuva job, or given him a medal (literally).

egarber said...

Reading the value W places on loyalty and the use of executive power to ensure it, I have a theory.

I think it's likely that W has already issued a summary judgment on Gonzalez. Meaning, even if he did involve himself in partisan firings, that's not a fireable offense to W -- indeed, it might actually be a positive.

In other words, W might pay lip service to the opinions of others on ethics, etc., but in the end he is fine with partisan firings, roughly like Jack Nicholson's character in a Few Good Men, who happily approved the "code red" assault on the murdered soldier.

Juan said...

If you analyze Bush's track record of replacements (an alternative euphemism for "loss of confidence") of political appointees, the only actual "firings" have been people who either (a) weren't as loyal as expected to Bush the politician (not the President, nor the nation, nor justice, nor the people, nor the Constitution, nor whatever higher interest you could presume that he/she should regard as foremost) or (b) committed a crime not directly related to their exercise of the loyalty expected from them. Together with the foregoing you have not "firings" but the acceptance of resignations, when the staffer has done so poorly and the heat from the general public (not the opposition, the courts, nor specific groups within the general population) is so intense that Bush is willing to have the guy fall on a sword. Provided the above, and since (1) all the crimes for which Gonzales is suspect are directly related to his loyal service to Bush and (2) the general public doesn't consider Gonzales' ouster something worth a very big political argument (even if almost everybody is convinced that he is a total disgrace to the DoJ), I only see him "losing Bush's confidence" if he's caught shoplifting, or another kind of crime or misdemeanour that can't be connected to one form or another of backward-bending for his master.

PG said...

Does Bush ever *not* state his confidence in people right before they fall on their swords? I think Wolfowitz is a good example here: he was involved in a semi-manufactured scandal when the World Bank Ethics Committee first demanded that his girlfriend be reassigned to someplace where she would not be under Wolfowitz's managerial control, even indirectly, which made it necessary for her to leave the Bank entirely. Because she had been having a successful career at the Bank before this disruption, the Ethics Committee advised a promotion prior to her departure. Wolfowitz sent her to State with a guaranteed salary increase (something that many civil servants get anyway once they reach a certain grade) and Committee Chairman Chairman Melkert wrote Wolfowitz that "because the outcome is consistent with the Committee's findings and advice above, the Committee concurs with your view that this matter can be treated as closed." Since the story hit the news media, Melkert has denied that he actually knew what the outcome was, but that doesn't indicate very good oversight on his part.

Through all of this, right up to Wolfowitz's resignation, Bush declared his support for him. I don't think this falls well into egarber's category of being due to general public pressure, given that most people don't even know that the U.S. control the appointment of the World Bank head, and couldn't care less what happens at the Bank anyway. The pressure was entirely from Wolfowitz's opponents at the World Bank (i.e., pretty much everyone at the World Bank). I think this sort of behavior actually is a sign of loyalty -- had I been Wolfowitz, I would have stayed in the position and kept whining that the whole deal had been approved and it was only anonymous malcontents who were making it an issue again. But he's leaving in order to take the story off the front and editorial pages of the NYTimes and WaPost.

PG said...

Oops, that should have been juan's theory, not egarber's.

Garth said...

his inability to be of any further assistance to the president is the only thing that will cause Bush to lose confidence.

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