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:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Estimated portion of registered voters in Zimbabwe who are dead:

1/4

Honeybees can recognize individual human faces.

Pope Francis announced that nuns could use social media, and a priest flew a hot-air balloon around the world.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today