Chasing Alberto

It can be difficult to find a job these days, even for someone with a Harvard Law School pedigree. Such has been the lot of Alberto Gonzales since he resigned as Attorney General 16 months ago. In an interview given to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Mr. Gonzales offered that he has filled his free time writing a book – albeit sans publisher – given the occasional speech, and done some mediation work. With law firms reluctant to hire Uncle Albert, a more lucrative payday has thus far eluded him, as well as, apparently, a sense of perspective.

“What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” the former Attorney General remarked. “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.”

What indeed. Mr. Gonzales’s staunchest critics, the U.S. Congress – that august body under whose aegis lay the authority to confirm or deny Presidential appointees – have thrown the former public servant under the bus.

Now, politicians are a peculiar lot; they rarely eat their own, and when they do their dietary habits generally run across party lines. While Republicans ruled Capitol Hill, Mr. Gonzales went about his work shielded, for the most part, from criticism. But with Democrats now holding a slim majority in the House, his role as architect and key policy maker during this time has come under increasing fire as members of Congress now question:

  • his firing of nine U.S. attorneys, apparently for political reasons;
  • why he allowed the Justice Department to become politicized, favoring Republicans and prosecuting Democrats;
  • why the government eavesdropped on private citizens without obtaining necessary court warrants;
  • his role in as the lead source for legal opinions, since rescinded, on interrogation that became known as the “torture memos”;
  • his refusal to rule on whether the use of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding constituted torture;
  • whether his post-9/11 anti-terrorism policies broke or circumvented existing law;
  • why in 2004 he confronted former Deputy Attorney General James Comey at the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over Mr. Comey’s refusal, as Acting Attorney General during Mr. Ashcroft’s recuperation from surgery, to reauthorize a classified government intelligence program.

Add to this Mr. Gonzales’s frequent response to questions posed to him during Congressional hearings, “I don’t recall,” and one gets the sense that Mr. Gonzales doesn’t get it at all.

Mr. Gonzales told WSJ that he did not play a central role in drafting the widely criticized legal opinions that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to use aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects and expanded the president’s power to hold “unlawful combatants” and terrorism suspects indefinitely. He also claimed he told the truth to Congress about a classified eavesdropping program authorized by the President. While Mr. Gonzales admitted to making mistakes in handling the firings of the nine U.S. attorneys, he still maintained that he made the right decision, allowing that while he bore responsibility as the former Attorney General, it “doesn’t absolve other individuals of responsibility.”

Mr. Gonzales has characterized the arguments and testimony against him as one-sided and taken out of context. He contends that while he was White House counsel he was just one among several lawyers to whom President Bush and his staff turned for legal opinion; the final say rested with the Justice Department.

Hmm, sort of makes one wish one were at the end of that long line along which the bucks are being passed.

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