No Comment — May 10, 2007, 8:51 am

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind The Curtain

Alberto Gonzales’s prepared remarks, just released to the House Judiciary Committee, contain a strained plea. It’s time for Congress to move on, he says, and stop obsessing about all this criminal conduct by figures at the top of the Justice Department.

“Recent events must not deter us from our mission,” Gonzales said. “I ask the committee to join me in that commitment and that rededication.”

But the remarks themselves are a retread. Ninety percent of the text is identical to Gonzales’s submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee in preparation for his testimony on April 17.

The more fundamental problem with this plea to “move on” is that the American public, Congress, and Alberto Gonzales have a very different conception of Gonzales’s mission. The public and Congress believe that the Justice Department should be a disinterested enforcer of the law. Alberto Gonzales, a career political hack, believes in a “political spoils” approach to law enforcement. Gonzales and his core team believe that the machinery of justice should be bent to serve the electioneering objectives of Karl Rove, and to that end Democrats need to be prosecuted and a fraud needs to be perpetrated on the public and the courts about “voter fraud.”

In the end, the Gonzales-Rove Plan is a criminal enterprise crafted to thwart the Hatch Act, and it needs to be investigated and prosecuted. Who says so? A majority of the public. And, in an interview with the Seattle Times, two former Republican prosecutors, John McKay and David Iglesias. Career prosecutor McKay:

“I think there will be a criminal case that will come out of this,” McKay said during his meeting with Times journalists. “This is going to get worse, not better.” McKay cited ongoing investigations into the dismissals by the Senate and House Judiciary committees, and inquiries now under way by the Justice Department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility.

McKay said he believes obstruction-of-justice charges will be filed if investigators conclude that the dismissal of any of the eight prosecutors was motivated by an attempt to influence ongoing public-corruption or voter-fraud investigations. McKay said he believes the strongest evidence of obstruction is related to the dismissals of Iglesias and Carol Lam, the former U.S. Attorney in San Diego.

I think that the inescapable necessity of criminal investigations and prosecutions is finally sinking in. The Bush Administration has held to a consistent pattern of conduct in such situations in the past: scapegoat the grunts and deny any liability up the chain. The “grunts” here are Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson. Gonzales maneuvered very skillfully in delegating everything to them in order to preserve a thin aura of deniability (which he will use exhaustively in his testimony today before the House Judiciary Committee). The best evidence of all this is the secret order delegating the power to hire and fire to Goodling and Sampson, which has just been made public.

My colleague Marty Lederman thinks this has been done so as to separate Paul J. McNulty and William Moschella from their traditional role in the hiring process. I am not so persuaded that he’s right about this, though he does make a strong case. It seems more likely to me that this is designed both to give the White House direct control, and to give Gonzales, McNulty and Moschella deniability. They will be able to argue that they just didn’t know, because Karl and the kids were running the show. That’s a sorry abdication of responsibility, of course, but perhaps the idea is to provide a firewall against legal liability. Their problem is that very few people are likely to believe their claims of detachment, particularly in light of the White House meeting at which Rove, McNulty, and Moschella agreed to “synchronize” their accounts in an effort to mislead Congress.

Either way, the high traditions of the department have been trashed with appalling results. But in the end this game of concealment and fabrication appears to have one great object: to protect Karl Rove. In the immortal words of the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain.” It’s amazing just how effective that command is when directed to our weak-minded media.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
“Here, a long finger of snow replaced by gray patches of dirt and rock; there, a grayish blob of ice the texture of corduroy, where once a vibrant white patch of snow lay.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans

Number of British women killed last fall by lightning conducted through their underwire bras:

2

British women wear heels for fifty-one years on average, from the ages of twelve to sixty-three.

Thousands of employees of McDonald’s protested outside the company’s headquarters near Chicago, demanding their wages be increased to $15 per hour. “I can’t afford any shoes,” said one employee in attendance, “and I want Versace heels.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today