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Omertà: The Gonzales Angle

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Alberto Gonzales is still the attorney general, which considering what he’s been through over the last two months is an amazing fact. George Bush, in remarks for a cinco de mayo celebration, labeled him as the “eternal general.” He was caught in a dozen lies in presentations to Congress, which is astonishing especially considering the fact that the crux of his testimony was that he simply couldn’t remember – not much of anything, even though he’d spent a solid month preparing for the hearings.

Today, Time magazine’s Massimo Calabresi offers us another glimpse at materials which came out in the interviews conducted by Judiciary Committee staffers. They furnish some remarkable insight into the thinking and character of Alberto Gonzales.

When the Roehrkasse e-mail came to light, he told the press that Gonzales had been upset because he believed that “Bud Cummins’ removal involved performance considerations.” But on April 15, Congressional sources tell TIME, Gonzales’ former chief of staff Kyle Sampson told a different story. During a private interview with Judiciary Committee staffers Sampson said three times in as many minutes that Gonzales was angry with McNulty because he had exposed the White House’s involvement in the firings?had put it’s role “in the public sphere,” as Sampson phrased it, according to Congressional sources familiar with the interview.

If Gonzales was indeed actively trying to protect the White House from charges they were involved in the firings, that will fuel suspicions that something improper was at work in the firings themselves. Most Democrats and Republicans agree that the President has broad authority to replace U.S. attorneys as he sees fit, so why would the Attorney General try to obscure the White House’s role in doing so?

So it seems that Gonzales was driven by one consideration: to shield and protect the White House–to avoid exposing the internal machinations of the White House to public or Congressional scrutiny.

Understanding this, it becomes apparent why Gonzales had convenient “memory lapses” with respect to all questions that pointed to dealings with Karl Rove and Harriet Miers. And it’s apparent why Gonzales furnished false statements on so many points. The dissembling is fairly consistent in what it obscures: the role of the White House. Gonzales is hanging around and taking the heat to protect Karl Rove. It’s about that simple.

On Thursday, Gonzales will be back on the hill, testifying in the House Judiciary Committee. He should expect to be probed very thoroughly on why he was so concerned about the White House’s role being in the “public sphere,” and why he suffers from persistent and highly localized amnesia on this subject matter. At this point, he has few friends remaining even among the Republicans. If he doesn’t quit, he will face a vote of censure, followed by an impeachment effort. No one will ever accuse Alberto Gonzales of a gracious exit.

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