Newt Piles On But Does He Get It?

Newt Gingrich is the latest prominent Republican to assail AG Gonzales for his handling of the Gonzales Eight Massacre. In his appearance on Fox News, former Speaker Gingrich said “This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years, in the years I’ve been active in public life.” (That's according to the NY Times report. I don't actually watch Fox News --- unless I happen to be in a hotel room that has just been vacated by VP Cheney. Explanation here.)

It's hard to tell exactly which aspects of the "mess" Gingrich was upset about, but the use of the words "mishandled" and "artificial" suggest that he, like a number of others who have abandoned the sinking Gonzales ship, either doesn't really get it or is deliberately obfuscating. Of course it was wrong for Gonzales to claim that the US Attorney dismissals were performance-related and to dissemble about his involvement in the affair. But this is one instance in which the Nixonian conventional wisdom --- it's not the crime; it's the cover-up --- is wrong.

The underlying plot to pressure U.S. Attorneys to bring disproportionately many prosecutions of Democrats and disproportionately few prosecutions of Republicans --- if that is in fact what was afoot --- was a grotesque abuse of power. Yes, the AG has a credibility problem, and yes, he and the Administration, with its preposterous offer of a no-recording/no-pencils session with Rove, have "handled" the issue badly in the sense that they've impeded efforts to uncover what actually happened. But if what actually happened were retaliatory firings of prosecutors who refused to weigh potential defendants' party affiliations in deciding whether to bring criminal charges, then this is much more than a cover-up.