It’s taken more than two years, but Alberto Gonzales has finally found a job. On August 31, he starts teaching a political science class at Texas Tech University in Lubbock with a one-year appointment that a political friend, university chancellor Kent Hance, a former Democratic congressman turned Republican, wrangled for him. Curiously, the former attorney general couldn’t land a job at the law school, just as he’s had no offers from major law firms. It’s a “tough economic climate,” Gonzales says by way of explanation. In an earlier interview he was more candid: “Any law firm that does due diligence on me sees all the investigations and the possibility that I might be indicted and they say, ‘Not right now.’”
But controversy has followed Gonzales even to the Texas panhandle: more than seventy professors at Texas Tech have lodged a petition complaining about Gonzales’s appointment, citing his “ethical failings” and arguing that his presence on campus will tarnish the university’s reputation. To mark the occasion, Sunday’s New York Times Magazine offers a brief interview with Gonzales.
In the interview, we learn that Dubya and Gonzales have not spoken to one another since Bush left office. Bush is focused on building his legacy, and it seems he doesn’t see Gonzales, his White House counsel and second attorney general, as a part of it. The core of the interview lies in this exchange:
Q: Would you agree that your reputation was damaged by your service as attorney general?
A: It has had an effect, a negative effect, no question about it, and at times it makes me angry because it is undeserved. But I don’t want to sound like I am whining. At the end of the day, I’ve been the attorney general of the United States. It’s a remarkable privilege, and I stand behind my service.
Perhaps it’s worth a quick reminder about the specifics. What did Alberto Gonzales do that shaped his reputation?
In his first year as White House counsel, he attempted to legalize torture, commissioning a series of memos designed to offer a legal shield to those who committed acts of torture, and he denigrated the Geneva Conventions as “quaint and obsolete.” But he consistently misrepresents his role in the process. He recently told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t really play an “important role” in any of this. Who did? “John Yoo had strong views,” he said.
He oversaw a Justice Department that reached historically unprecedented levels of politicization, in which career employees were dismissed based on their political beliefs and prosecutions were initiated or squelched to advance the Republican Party’s electoral agenda.
He dismissed nine U.S. attorneys on grounds which were clearly improper and politically motivated, then lied about the reasons and stonewalled Congress, in one hearing using the words “I can’t recall” or a similar formulation seventy-one times.
He played the key role in authorizing an illegal warrantless surveillance program, signing authority for it himself when John Ashcroft refused to do so and making a nighttime visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed to pressure him to sign.
Just how seriously does Gonzales take his new job? In response to a question about the syllabus for his class, he draws a blank, suggesting that he hasn’t quite gotten around to preparing one. Then he promises “the students a behind-the-scenes look at how the White House is really organized and how it operates.” I hope someone’s taking good notes. Sounds like they may learn a lot more than congressional investigators and Special Prosecutor Nora Dannehy, who seem to have heard repeatedly that Gonzales just had no recollection of the inner workings of the White House, especially with respect to legal issues.