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.