Watching yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General (for now) Alberto Gonzales, the one thing I kept thinking of was the flurry of news reports from the last couple of weeks about Gonzales’ extraordinary preparation efforts. The WaPo ran a front-page item recently about the AG having “retreated from public view,” in order to spend “hours practicing” for this hearing, with days of “rigorous mock testimony sessions.”
In other words, after all that work, we saw Gonzales at his very best yesterday. He had all the information he needed, he’d seen every document available, and he had all the time he needed to get his facts straight. And yet, the AG still came across as a dishonest dissembler who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick put it, “You can’t help but wonder what condition he was in last month before he started preparing full time.”
The New York Times editorial page captured the broader problem quite nicely.
If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.
Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.
He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes.
He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant who, if that’s possible, was even more of a plodding apparatchik. Mr. Gonzales failed to create the most rudimentary standards for judging the prosecutors’ work, except for political fealty. And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony.
Time to spend more time with your family, Mr. Gonzales.