For most people, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is a national embarrassment, a pimple on the ass of American history. But to hear him tell it, the man George W. Bush called "Fredo" is a victim of partisan warfare. And the lesson he apparently learned in Washington is not that he politicized the Bush Justice Department, but that he didn't politicize it enough.
Those are among the head-shaking takeaways in a brief but revealing interview in Esquire titled, "Alberto Gonzales: What I've Learned." The man who repeatedly lied to Congress about the U.S. prosecutors purge, President Bush's illegal program of domestic surveillance and regime of detainee torture was just an innocent bystander caught in the political crossfire:
"I think 90 percent of what happened to me is politics, pure and simple. It's tough to knock out a president. But if you can get someone who is viewed as close to the president, then that may be a good thing."
As it turns out, this Gonzales declaration of victimization pales in comparison to his self-described martyrdom a year ago. In December 2008, the former AG complained to the Wall Street Journal that the scorn and derision heaped upon him was undeserved:
"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?"
"For some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
Of course, perhaps the biggest casualty in Alberto Gonzales' own war on terror was the truth. In January 2007, the Attorney General delivered the Big Lie about the entire U.S. prosecutors purge scandal to the Senate Judiciary Committee:
"I would never ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons or that in any way would jeopardize an ongoing investigation."
But as he acknowledged to Esquire this week, Gonzales' real lament about the U.S. attorneys firings is that the Bush White House wasn't political enough. After the Republican losses in the 2006 midterm elections, Gonzales suggested, the Bush administration's error was that it simply couldn't get away it:
"We should have abandoned the idea of removing the U. S. attorneys once the Democrats took the Senate. Because at that point we could really not count on Republicans to cut off investigations or help us at all with investigations. We didn't see that at the Department of Justice. Nor did the White House see that. Karl didn't see it. If we could do something over again, that would be it."
Now ensconced in the law school at Texas Tech, Alberto Gonzales claims "I'm proud of that record," while sighing that "I don't believe my life's work should be solely defined by four years in the White House and two years as attorney general." But in all likelihood, the poster child for Bush administration incompetence and corruption will be recalled for statements like this:
"Senator, that I don't recall remembering."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)