Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls, It Tolls for Fredo | Harper's Magazine

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Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls, It Tolls for Fredo


The Senate prepares for a vote of no-confidence in the service of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General on Monday. In the meantime, the list of accusations of criminal conduct and ethics lapses against him continues to swell. The crimes include: perjury, making false statements to Congress, suborning perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity and conspiracy to commit torture. The ethics lapses have proliferated around his conduct in visiting Attorney General Ashcroft in his George Washington University hospital room and the use he apparently intended to make of a statement on which he wanted Ashcroft’s signature, and also his highly contemptuous attitude towards Congress and his tendency to prevaricate at the drop of a hat.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a former career prosecutor, expressed consternation over the cool ability of Gonzales and his senior lieutenants to engage in conduct which easily meets a prosecutor’s test for obstruction of justice. He says that “you can count on it” that the marching orders to fire prosecutors and install political stooges in their place came from within the White House. But underlying all is a curious attitude towards the law and law enforcement. The law exists as a vehicle to enforce and retain partisan political power, it says. Their attitude seems to be that as the nation’s senior law enforcement officers, they themselves will define the law. And that puts them above the law:

Whenever you see anybody from the Department of Justice — anybody from the Gonzales clique from the Department of Justice — talk about this, they say three things over and over again. They say that it would be improper to attempt to influence or interfere with a particular case — they always use that phrase — a particular case, for an improper partisan purpose. Now, that is a very accurate, lay description of the elements of criminal obstruction of justice. So it looks as if they may be trying to basically kind of define deviancy down, if you will, so that anything less than criminal obstruction of justice is no longer viewed as improper. So, that’s absolutely the wrong place for an Attorney General of the United States to be establishing the standard for his office. Absolutely the wrong one. And Jim Comey and other people have recognized that.

To add insult to injury, Gonzales had been given through Friday to comply with document production requests, and – as could have been predicted – he responded by doing nothing. No excuses or requests for extension, and certainly no production of documents. The word leaking from the White House staff for some time now has been that Fred Fielding wanted to reach a compromise and turn over documents to Congress, but that Alberto Gonzales has insisted on maintaining a solid stone wall – no compliance. This matches occasional messages coming out of the Department of Justice itself. Says Judiciary Chair and former prosecutor Patrick Leahy:

“The Justice Department’s continued frustration of this Committee’s attempts to carry out its constitutional oversight function is unfortunate. We will continue in our pursuit of this information until we get it, so that we can carry out our constitutional duties.”

Today we learn that another senior Justice Department official has contradicted Gonzales’s testimony concerning intelligence gathering programs, expanding the basis for charges that Gonzales intentionally misled Congress. Steven Bradbury, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, explained in his testimony on Friday that the issues raised by former Attorney General John Ashcroft in the famous hospital bed incident related not to the program described by Alberto Gonzales, but rather to an entirely different, and apparently still undisclosed program:

Well, all I’ll say is what the attorney general has said, which is that disagreements arose, disagreements were addressed and resolved; however, those disagreements did not — were not about the particular activities that the president has publicly described, that we have termed the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

In case you have any doubts about Bradbury’s orientation on these issues, just remember that he previously testified in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the “president is always right.”

Just a week earlier, Gonzales testified that the dispute related to the program that Bush had described.

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