While calls for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys continue, both Gonzales and President Bush continue to hold their ground. While members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have criticized Gonzales over misleading statements concerning the firings, others have denounced the whole situation as yet another Washington political witch hunt. We’ve asked a New York criminal lawyer for his take.
However, it is not entirely clear to me exactly what Gonzales did wrong to make himself a target of these resignation demands. As in most cases, though, reasons exist both to support and oppose these demands.
First, it is rather clear that the AG should not resign merely because the firings were (at least in part) political in nature. Because Bush, like any president, can generally fire executive officials for any reason or no reason at all, Gonzales should not be an indirect scapegoat to be sacrificed by those opposing this well-established executive authority.
However, the manner in which Gonzales has handled this congressional inquiry is perhaps a more appropriate basis for calling for his resignation. For example, Gonzales has led members of Congress and the public to believe that he had either no role or a very minor role in the firings. Despite that representation, the media has reported that Gonzales was present at a meeting where his aides formulated a plan for the firings. Moreover, Gonzales reportedly approved this plan. On its face, this revelation appears inconsistent with his previous representations.
Although Gonzales probably did not knowingly lie or misrepresent the extent of his involvement, a serious question arises as to his credibility as the chief officer in the Department of Justice, a department where credibility is paramount to maintain the trust of the public. If the public cannot trust the attorney general on matters as inconsequential as perfectly legal firings or attorneys, one wonders if he can be trusted on any matter. At the very least, Gonzales has either a very bad memory or is simply too careless with his words to be trusted by Congress and the public.
The other possibility is that he simply has no respect for Congress and refused to take the time to accurately check his schedule and other records before making these misleading statements. While Gonzales could plausibly argue that he merely meant that he was not aware of the actual reason for the firings, that excuse does not vitiate the sobering reality that he comes across as uncooperative and unreliable in the search for the whole truth.
One would be bold to insist that the attorney general is cooperative and reliable as it pertains to congressional oversight. As they say in the professional-wrestling world, this man is a serious “heat magnet.” He could have and likely should have accurately and fully disclosed the extent of his involvement before making any statement. Gonzales is good at one thing – making a bad situation even worse.
On a side note, it is also puzzling that one component of the plan approved by the AG consisted of ways for dealing with any political fallout caused by the firings. Considering how badly DOJ has handled this controversy, it is manifestly clear that that part of the plan was seriously neglected. Mark that as one more signal that Gonzales has a difficult time carrying out the plans of his department. At the very least, one has to wonder why there is no clear documentation that details the reasons for the firings. Does a U.S. attorney not deserve just a little more respect than this?
In short, the real measuring stick for deciding whether Gonzales should resign is his inability to effectively cooperate with congressional oversight. Mr. Attorney General, I will let others decide whether you should resign, but please do us all a favor and take some basic classes on public relations. As it stands now, all you can do is turn a simple case of heartburn into a quadruple bypass. Even the Bush administration deserves more than this level of incompetence.