Commentary: Gonzales continues to get attacked by indept Congress
SAN DIEGO -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is in hot water with Congress and the media. What else is new? Actually, Gonzales' critics would say there's a lot that's new in this Beltway telenovela. That colorful crack will probably get me cens...
SAN DIEGO -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is in hot water with Congress and the media. What else is new?
Actually, Gonzales' critics would say there's a lot that's new in this Beltway telenovela. That colorful crack will probably get me censured by liberals who'll accuse me of "playing the race card" since I've implied in the past that a posse of Senate Democrats is gunning for Gonzales for what he symbolizes. Although Gonzales has done himself no favors by being slippery to the point of evasive, what really bugs liberals is that he was appointed by a Republican president.
Now Gonzales' critics are convinced they've nailed him. No really. This time, for sure. Senate Democrats -- led by Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein and Russell Feingold -- insist that Gonzales perjured himself and they're demanding that a special prosecutor investigate. They say that FBI Director Robert Mueller III -- in testifying last week before the House Judiciary Committee -- contradicted Gonzales' testimony regarding the creepy night-time visit that Gonzales and ex-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card paid to John Ashcroft's hospital bed in March 2004.
The New York Times chimed in with an editorial saying that if the administration doesn't go along with demands for a special prosecutor, Congress should impeach Gonzales.
So we've jumped to impeachment? The Times has been out in front of the mob all along. It demanded Gonzales resign way back on March 18, before a single witness was called or a single document produced related to the firings of the U.S. attorneys.
Republicans also are critical of Gonzales. One of the loudest critics has been Sen. Arlen Specter, yet he opposes the idea of appointing a special prosecutor.
Wise man. If the Clinton years taught us anything, it's that handing blank checks to special prosecutors is a recipe for expensive, self-perpetuating investigations that drag on endlessly.
The Democratic posse has handled this affair with the competence and efficiency of the Bush administration's Iraq team. Senate Democrats interviewed 14 witnesses and reviewed more than 8,000 pages of documents, and still can't prove a crime was committed. They haven't paid enough attention to Karl Rove, despite the fact that the White House political adviser seems to have been a major actor in the U.S. attorney caper. Finally, they mixed up the facts, heard only what they wanted to hear, and jumped to all the wrong conclusions.
Which gets us back to what happened in that hospital room. The senators say that Gonzales lied when he testified that, during the visit, he and Ashcroft discussed an intelligence program but that it wasn't the National Security Agency's "terrorist surveillance program." Rather, Gonzales testified that the conversation involved "other intelligence activities."
Mueller seemed to contradict Gonzales when he testified that the terrorist surveillance program was the topic of discussion during the hospital meeting. The problem is that Mueller -- despite media accounts suggesting otherwise -- wasn't in the room at the time of the meeting. As Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee, he arrived after Gonzales and Card had left. He asked Ashcroft what had happened, and he said that the ailing attorney general -- who was "groggy" and "a sick man," according to James Comey, acting attorney general at the time -- told him that the men had come to discuss the NSA program.
Ergo, relying on hearsay and the words of someone who, we are told, may not have been fully coherent, Gonzales must have lied to Congress. One plus one eqals three.
Poetically, Gonzales got his final vindication from his original tormentor. The New York Times recently reported that the conversation in the hospital might have been about a "data mining" project in which authorities review telephone records and not the NSA's wiretapping program. So Gonzales could have been telling the truth. A perjury charge will never stick.
D'oh! Foiled again, Gonzales' persecutors now complain that he is, in the words of Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, "too clever by seven-eighths." Not bad for a guy who, a few months ago, was depicted in the media and on left-wing blogs as an incompetent dolt.
The hapless members of the Senate Judiciary Committee obviously hold Gonzales in contempt. But they've got it backward. It's obvious from the way he answered their questions that the attorney general, in this matter, holds the committee in contempt -- as should we all.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .