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Fredo for the Defense

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Times are tough for Alberto Gonzales. Once he figured near the top of the legal profession; he was widely mentioned as a Supreme Court nominee for Bush. David Broder, with characteristic vision, hailed him as a moderate who would restore the reputation of the Justice Department after the “radicalism” of John Ashcroft. Gonzales, the accepted wisdom held, would serve out his term as Bush’s second attorney general, and then would return to a law-firm partnership where he would take down a few million a year. After all, what law firm wouldn’t hire a former attorney general as a partner?

Well, it seems no law firm is interested in hiring Alberto Gonzales. He’s been looking for a job without success. With a special prosecutor hovering about and looking into the possibility of criminal charges, it seems that most prospective employers are taking a wait-and-see attitude. And today, a depressed, dejected, and obviously misunderstood Gonzales reveals himself in an exclusive interview with the Wall Street Journal. Although he carefully avoids the subject matter of the pending investigation, he does seem to be presenting what may emerge as a line of defense in a future trial. The defense is “I was just a little guy.”

for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.

But actually, Gonzales’s defense lines up perfectly with the heaviest charges laid at his feet. He was never portrayed as a “mastermind” of torture, illegal surveillance, or the plot to fill the Justice Department with partisan hacks, nor indeed as a “mastermind” of anything whatsoever. He was prized from the outset as the affable man who did the bidding of his boss and never asked the difficult questions that pesky lawyers who earn their salt are wont to ask. Most importantly he was prized as the sort of lawyer who never said “no” to his client, no matter how utterly preposterous, or indeed, criminal, the proposition put to him. This was the characteristic that lifted him from obscurity to a partnership at one of Texas’s leading law firms, Vinson & Elkins (which apparently doesn’t want him back) and then to roles as counsel to Governor Bush, a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, and which led to a memorable flameout in Washington, D.C.

History will judge Alberto Gonzales after all the facts are laid bare. Too many of those facts remain obscured in all those unbelievable memory lapses that were the hallmark of his congressional testimony. Alberto Gonzales presents himself as a defendant before history, as a weak-willed and weak-minded individual–a curious pose for a former attorney general, but no attorney general before Fredo has struck the pose so credibly. And it may keep him out of prison.

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