For those of you who missed the testimony of Alberto Gonzales before the Judiciary Committee, I’d recommend making the effort to catch it on a CSPAN rebroadcast. There’s simply no way to adequately describe the whole scene: that creepy, evasive visage, calmly churning out falsehood after falsehood. You have to keep reminding yourself—this man is the attorney general of the United States. He is the physical embodiment of an idea. At this point no one, Democrat or Republican, would argue that he is highly qualified to hold the position he now occupies, that he is the obvious choice among America’s legions of lawyers to be the attorney general. He was chosen and installed as the exaltation of personal loyalty and fidelity over all other traits, especially intelligence, honesty, loyalty to the law and especially the Constitution. Gonzales stands for the willingness to lie and dissemble in order to protect his patron; he is the ultimate and absolute politicization of high office. His selection and installation reflect the values of a tyranny, not a democracy.
And yesterday, Gonzales served up more whoppers than a Burger King during the midday rush. He’s developed a rapport with this committee like no attorney general in history. Senator Specter, the ranking member of his own party, not only calls Gonzales a liar (though using only slightly less harsh language) but expresses the view that Gonzales has passed the threshold into the territory of a felony that should be prosecuted. If anything like that has ever happened before, I must have missed it.
So perhaps the starting point is handicapping Gonzales as a person who is likely at some point to face criminal charges. Of course, if President Bush was prepared to descend deus ex machina to save Scooter Libby, then he surely will grant his dear friend Fredo a full and comprehensive pardon. After all, Fredo is perjuring himself serially to protect Bush’s brain, Karl Rove—an ultimate act of self-sacrifice. But that pardon will apply only to crimes committed up to that point, and Fredo, no doubt, has a large number of crimes yet to commit. He seems to believe that being Attorney General, he has a license to perjure himself as much as he likes before Congress. And at this point it’s reasonably clear that Bush agrees. That’s all that matters.
Assuming the all-but-unthinkable, namely that the wheels of justice were permitted to turn normally and Fredo were to face multiple counts for his perjuries and other crimes, if I were advising Fredo’s defense team, I would strongly advise against having Fredo take the stand. He may in fact occasionally tell the truth. But even when he says “My name is Alberto Gonzales,” it sounds like a lie.
So let’s recap some of the major developments from his July 24 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Robert Conquest wrote that the Soviet Union was the only nation with a completely unpredictable past. But meet Alberto Gonzales. He was extremely busy rewriting history today, and it now appears that when he raises his hand and swears an oath, there’s no telling which version of the past will appear next. First, he tells us that the trip to see Ashcroft in the hospital has to do with something entirely different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program about which his former Deputy James Comey testified. In doing this, he contradicts his own prior testimony, and he contradicts Comey. At least one person is lying. And indeed, that person has to be Gonzales. The only issue is which of his diametrically opposed statements is the lie.
Second, he stated that he went to Ashcroft in order to satisfy the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators who had insisted that the program continue. One of those senators, Tom Daschle, says that Gonzales is lying—that no such meeting occurred and no such demand was made. His account is totally at odds with all other accounts of the “Gang of Eight” and their interaction. In addition to this, evidence has surfaced in the meantime from several outside sources which suggests very strongly that the trip to see Ashcroft and secure his signatures was part of an effort to convince a group of service providers to cooperate with the Government in allowing the installation of electronic devices which would facilitate the surveillance of the communications of tens of millions of Americans without warrants. Again, Gonzales’s account has compounded lies upon lies. [Since I started this piece, Jay Rockefeller, Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman have all also spoken. They each confirm that Gonzales is lying. I know you’re all shocked to hear this.]
Sheldon Whitehouse, the freshman senator from Rhode Island who is a former prosecutor, continues to figure as one of the most effective questioners on the committee. Previously, Whitehouse had established that the Justice Department in 2002 had given in to a request from Gonzales that the door be opened to allow some 447 political appointees (almost all of them in the White House) to tinker with pending criminal investigations and prosecutions. This was done for one purpose: to permit the political manipulation of the prosecutorial process, which available evidence now suggests ran rampant over a period of at least five years.
Now Whitehouse discloses that Gonzales signed a memo in May 2006, while he was attorney general, to allow Vice President Dick Cheney, and particularly his chief of staff, David Addington, to discuss on-going cases with prosecutors. Note that this is while Cheney’s former chief-of-staff, Scooter Libby, was facing indictment on charges of lying to the grand jury and an independent prosecutor was conducting an investigation that ultimately established that Cheney had orchestrated the exposure of a covert CIA agent as an act of political retaliation. When Whitehouse asked Gonzales “What on earth business does the Office of the Vice President have in the internal workings of the Department of Justice with respect to criminal investigations, civil investigations, and ongoing matters?” And as a response, Gonzales offered this: “As a general matter, I would say that’s a good question.”
Of course, Gonzales understands perfectly well what was going on; he’s not an idiot. Cheney wanted to be able to monitor criminal proceedings and manipulate prosecutors into doing his will, and Gonzales gave him a green light to do so. This is a vice president who very likely committed a series of crimes, and whose chief-of-staff took the fall, lying to a grand jury to protect him. Cheney’s interest, first and foremost, was the protection of Cheney. And giving him a key to the safe under these circumstances was a criminal defalcation.
The Role of Bush in the Hospital Visit
One of the major open questions relating to the nighttime visit by Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed is what role Bush played in the whole thing. The White House has tried desperately to suggest that Card and Gonzales were acting on their own initiative, but there is already a good bit of evidence for the proposition that President Bush sent them to do his own bidding. Gonzales, however, dodged every question probing into this point. He doesn’t answer. Note: Gonzales does not assert Executive Privilege (which is the president’s privilege to assert in any event); he doesn’t claim an attorney-client privilege; he doesn’t say he can’t remember. He simply refuses to answer. This is pure contempt. And Senator Schumer makes the point.
Obstruction of Justice
Gonzales denied having spoken to a number of witnesses in the U.S. attorney scandal, including a key figure, Monica Goodling. Later, Goodling received a grant of immunity and testified that Gonzales’s testimony was false. In fact, she had spoken to Gonzales, and he had gone out of his way to coach her about how she should testify. In a white-collar criminal case, this would routinely be seen as a crime—trying to suborn a witness to give false evidence. Of course, in the current Justice Department view, what may be a crime when done by a normal citizen is not a crime when done by the attorney general. But then, nothing Gonzales does is a crime, up to and including the potentially capital offenses (and they’re coming, scroll on down). Today, Gonzales concedes his failure to come clean earlier. He explained that he was not coaching the witness, merely trying to console her (thereby invoking the well-established spiritual guidance exception to the rule against obstruction of justice). It doesn’t look like any of the senators were buying this, however. And more importantly, neither would a professional prosecutor. And that explains why Gonzales will never appoint a special prosecutor.
Torture Isn’t Torture If We Do It
And then the old Tomas de Torquemada came out, that character deep in the innermost recesses of the Gonzales ego. President Bush recently issued an Executive Order which appears to be geared to authorizing torture by the CIA. Its language is a careful case-study in ambiguity. So what about specific techniques, such as waterboarding? Long-time standing? Hypothermia? Aren’t they torture and unlawful? Well, for Alberto Gonzales, mock executions and waterboarding aren’t torture, and aren’t proscribed by the president’s Executive Order. Indeed, it would now appear that in the attorney general’s opinion, they have been authorized. And that means that the over one hundred deaths that have occurred in detention, very many of them connected directly to the use of these highly abusive techniques, are in Gonzales’s view privileged homicides.
So let’s just step in a time machine for a second and go traveling back to 1946-47, at the end of World War II, and to the positions jointly adopted by the allies—led by the United States—with respect to techniques including waterboarding, long-time standing, the cold cell and sleep deprivation in excess of two days. Are these techniques torture? Yes. What punishment is available against those convicted of having used them? Up to and including the death penalty. What punishment is available against high government officials who create the legal basis for the use of these techniques? At least ten years at hard labor, but up to and including the death sentence. Did Alberto Gonzales, who famously said—using (whether consciously or not) the words that sped Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel to his appointment with the hangman—that the Geneva Conventions were “quaint” and “obsolete,” commit a capital crime? I don’t think the assumption of the singular is correct here. More likely we’re talking a series of them.
And now you know why Gonzales, during a visit to Argentina recently, was told that he could not be received by the president of the republic in the Casa rosada. Outside of the United States he is viewed as an “enemy of all mankind,” hostis humani generis, someone who will, when he looses the protection of his official immunity, certainly be prosecuted. He can find repose in the fact that the majority view in the international community no longer accepts the death penalty, though for severe war crimes, like these, they may make an exception.
How Many U.S. Attorneys Did You Fire?
So how about a simple question, which Gonzales has now been given two months to ponder: how many U.S. attorneys did you fire? You’d think you’d get an answer. But you’d be wrong. The answer he gave, again, is that he doesn’t know. Just think about it. You’re an executive and you’re firing a group of your senior most employees. And you don’t know how many you fired? Any executive knows that this is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions he’ll ever make. Gonzales’s answer on this point is one of those rare cases when “I don’t know” can surely be found to be another perjury.
Tuesday, July 24. All in another day’s testimony for Alberto Gonzales, the worst attorney general in the history of the United States, the man who has come to embody the lawlessness and immorality of the Bush Administration.