Friday, April 20, 2007

Gonzales Reconfirmation Hearing Goes Swimmingly

During Attorney General Gonzales' "reconfirmation hearing" yesterday, the beleaguered chief law enforcement officer of the nation committed no errors grievous enough to force President Bush to send him packing.

His answers were at times in variance with the known facts. But that probably won't bother his boss.

His job looks safe, considering his long friendship with the president. At least until any new evidence surfaces in the U.S. attorney dismissal scandal.

His most marked deviation yesterday from an earlier explanation involved an eighth U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins of eastern Arkansas, who was told by Justice officials last June that he would have to resign. He was to be replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, an aide to Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.

For the past two months, Justice officials have seesawed publicly about why Cummins was removed. In early February, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, testifying before the same committee at which Gonzales appeared yesterday, said the Arkansas prosecutor had done a satisfactory job and was removed only to make room for Griffin.

A month later, documents and a Justice spokesman offered a contradictory explanation. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for Gonzales, said McNulty's testimony had "upset" the attorney general, who "believed Bud Cummins's removal involved performance considerations."

Yesterday, Gonzales went back to the original explanation, saying that Cummins "was asked to resign because there was another well-qualified individual that the White House wanted to put in place there, that we supported." Asked whether it was accurate that Cummins had no job-performance problems, Gonzales replied: "I would say that's a fair statement."

His memory sure was fuzzy, though.

The hearing was billed as Gonzales's chance to explain the contradictions, omissions and falsehoods in his response to the firings. But instead of contrition, the attorney general treated the committee to a mixture of arrogance, combativeness and amnesia. Even his would-be defenders on the Republican side were appalled.

"Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch," said Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"Why is your story changing?" demanded Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

"Significantly, if not totally, at variance with the facts," said Arlen Specter (Pa.), the committee's ranking Republican.

"Really deplorable," said John Cornyn (R-Tex.). After this blow, from an administration loyalist and an old Texas friend, Gonzales stuttered in his reply.

Gonzales had weeks to prepare for yesterday's hearing. But the man who sat at the witness table sounded like the sort of person who forgets where he parked his car.

Explaining his role in the botched firing of federal prosecutors, Gonzales uttered the phrase "I don't recall" and its variants ("I have no recollection," "I have no memory") 64 times. Along the way, his answer became so routine that a Marine in the crowd put down his poster protesting the Iraq war and replaced it with a running "I don't recall" tally.

<< Home