Monica Goodling's testimony to the House Judiciary Committee has raised new questions about disgraced U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' ability to keep his job. While explaining that she "held no keys to the kingdom," her actions and those of other senior Justice Department officials may have contributed to blocking access to the ballot box. Let's hope Congress continues to dig until we get the full picture. But one thing is for sure: Gonzales has become both a drag and major distraction to the Bush administration at a time when they are trying to negotiate an overhaul of our nation's immigration laws.
I am waiting for temperatures to rise high enough inside the beltway to get Gonzales on the road back home to Texas. I am sure there are plenty of people ready to pitch in and help him pay for gas.
Despite President George W. Bush's strong reaffirmation of support for his embattled attorney general and personal friend, the truth is that Gonzales has increasingly become a major distraction with ever-decreasing credibility. His credibility continues to wane after another round of information that Gonzales may have "tampered" with a potential witness when he sought to "get his facts straight" on why eight U.S. attorneys were dismissed.
Goodling told members of the committee that the conversation with her boss made her feel "uncomfortable." Well, that's how many Americans now feel about the Department of Justice. Gonzales has become more than a daily talking point; he's becoming a major distraction as well. Just ask White House Press Secretary Tony Snow how often Gonzales' name and the entire Justice Department imbroglio surfaces despite his attempts to stay on message. At a recent news briefing, Snow went on record saying, "I don't think he's a distraction." He made this statement during his briefing on immigration and the Iraq supplemental funding bill.
At a time when Snow wanted to discuss other matters, the first question asked was about Gonzales. So were the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, until Snow shut down that line of questioning by stonewalling with, "Seriously, you are really overplaying this." How can you overplay the Gonzales scandal? Those reporters remained undeterred, and the questions continued.
Gonzales is a distraction, and regarding those who simply want to look the other way, what planet are they living on? Clearly, Snow has been well schooled in this administration's motto: deny, deny, deny. And when in doubt: distract, distract and distract. This is what so many Americans have come to expect from the stubbornly arrogant White House, and one reason why the public is so down on Washington these days. Accountability is in short supply, and honesty is rare from this administration.
When Gonzales blamed his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, for mismanagement of the firing of several U.S. attorneys, Sampson had the good sense to step down. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty soon followed. At first, Gonzales defended McNulty, asserting that he was unaware of Sampson's machinations, but he abandoned his support quickly when he realized that Sampson's resignation was not enough to quell the fervor. McNulty was Gonzales's second sacrificial lamb (or third if you count Monica Goodling, former Justice Department liaison to the White House), all the while maintaining that partisan political considerations played no role in the prosecutors' dismissal.
But after Goodling's admission before the House Judiciary Committee that she "may have gone too far, and… may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions," Gonzales and the administration are forced to fabricate yet another excuse for why those eight fired prosecutors were targeted and forced to resign. It doesn't look good for them, as they are already having trouble answering the question of who even created the list.
Gonzales bears responsibility for creating a culture (inside the Justice Department of all places!) in which the law takes a back seat to politics. Under Gonzales's watch, Goodling violated federal law by considering political loyalties when evaluating applicants for jobs as career prosecutors. Whether Gonzales knew about it or not, he allowed it to happen, and for that, a Senatorial vote of "no confidence" is the least he deserves.
Gonzales has sworn to keep his post as long as he can "serve effectively." Well, he stopped serving effectively the moment the Justice Department began a systematic campaign to force eligible citizens to fight for access to the ballot box. Gonzales failed when he allowed his underlings to make bogus excuses to get rid of seasoned prosecutors who were not acting fast enough to prosecute weak cases based on partisanship. Gonzales failed when he allowed career employees to leave the Department in favor of ideological zealots willing to place their stamps of approval on a mockery of justice.
Gonzales was not "serving effectively" when he redefined the internationally accepted definition of torture so as to permit U.S. agents to administer infliction of pain on prisoners of war equivalent in intensity to "pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure," or when he announced during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that there is no express grant of habeas corpus in the Constitution
Gonzales is ultimately responsible for nurturing a culture of indifference, arrogance and extreme partisanship at the U.S. Department of Justice. So, fill 'er up, free tire inspection and car wash. May I suggest a short cut out of Washington, D.C.: Just head south, turn west, watch the sun set and don't look back. Let's give Gonzales just what he has earned for being a "loyal Bushie" — Keys to drive home to Texas.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and former campaign manager for Al Gore.