Pop Quiz Interrupts Summer Phantasies
Do you remember your last couple of months of High School? You know; you already had your acceptance letter from a college, most your classes were winding down and your interests in things academic were on a back burner?
I suspect that is a little how Alberto Gonzales felt while leaving the Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon. He had made it! Even if congress planned to do something; the wheels of Justice turn slowly. Especially if you’re one of the people standing on the brakes.
Eighteen months is a very short time in Washington and, just like a high school senior with a couple of months and finals left, Gonzales probably felt he could coast from here. Just a couple of difficult papers, one or two orals and then freedom. At least that is the tone of the post I expected to be writing today. About how General Giggles was more or less home free for the next few months.
Why did I think that? Let’s look at this not from the perspective of the American people; let’s look at this from inside the Bush bunker.
There are 18 months left and we are facing a 5 week congressional break is coming up at the end of next week. Senators and Congresspeople are busy trying to get bills passed so the visit back to home states can be greeted with big checks and pork laden rhetoric. The administration thought there wouldn’t be any time to start anything major against the AG until fall. By then the Iraq report would be taking most of the limelight and even more time would pass. Nothing would get started until shortly before Christmas (another break!).
And it looked like it was going to work. Despite strong words from both Patrick Leahy and Arin Spector, both men are willing to give the Justice Department enough time to re-craft (or warcraft) the comments made by Gonzales into a more reality oriented piece of legal weaselling, dodging wrongdoing but never actually approaching the abyss of truth. Both senior Senators, although fed up with Gen. Giggles, are “eagerly” awaiting the possible “corrections” from the DOJ.
As has also been often mentioned, in the current political climate, Bush would have difficulties getting Senate conformation for any Gonzales replacement. It’s not like no one has ever reported that the administration isn’t quietly looking for ‘Berto II. As a matter of fact, looking at the number of open posts in senior administration positions, I suspect Bush would have difficulties finding anyone to take the job.
The idea has also been floated, that the Bush administration both needs and wants Gonzales to stay. With so many, shall we say, dodgy legal moves over the past six years, administration officials might feel that Gonzales the last line of defense. After all, they still have to keep working and you can’t work if you have to delete an e-mail before you have time to read it. And as Scooter Libby can say, those legal fees get pressing if you don’t have a large number of fund-raisers behind you. I doubt there are that many hard-core, deep-pocketed Republicans to protect the entire White House staff.
Gonzales can also be fairly sure that his seat is right now secure because there is no reason for Bush to fire him at the moment. There is no direct need to boost his poll numbers during the off season. October might be a different story when relief is sought from the “Iraq report” onslaught after the next set of benchmark progress is published. But during the summer slump? Nah!
Thus I figured General Giggles was safe for the next year and a half.
But remember what happened to Donald “he’ll stay until the end of the term” Rumsfeld? Rumors of his replacement were also widespread and always denied. He looked a bit miffed the day he got canned. That might be what is going on here. And Bush might not have much choice.
I was amazed at how fast congress responded to Gonzales’ newest silliness.
First came the documents – who knew there would be documents, don’t these people understand shredding? (Is Oliver North available for consulting?) The comments from Democratic participants in the Gang of Eight* meetings were to be expected; the absolute lack of response from the Republican side (Tom Delay anyone?) is more puzzling. But I seriously doubt that anyone, at least anyone as far outside Washington as I sit, would have expected yesterdays testimony from Robert S. Mueller III, FBI director, disputing Gonzales testimony. That made the White House attempts at claiming everything is political theatre a little difficult to swallow.
But to see four senators respond within two days with a request to the Solicitor General to see if perjury charges could be brought? Two days?! I’m stunned.
I suspect the aides in Gonzales’ office are working around the clock to attempt damage control on this. But the task isn’t easy. From the Washington Post, quoting Schumer during yesterday’s press conference,
“He tells the half-truth, the partial truth and anything but the truth,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), as he and three other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department yesterday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales lied to Congress about the NSA program.
I suspect this is a pop quiz Gonzales and the administration hadn’t expected. No more coasting. They thought they’d have a week to rewrite reality, five weeks of quiet to massage (or massage parlor) various lawmakers, and a September filled, not with the Department of Justice, but the Department of Defense. Now they are facing a summer of Justice, not much to fill the news cycle and lots of time for the democrats to explain the case to the American public.
I hope all those aides got travel cancellation insurance when they booked their vacations. Stupid pop quizzes!