April 20, 2007
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced sharp questioning for five+ hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee as he discussed the process by which eight U.S. Attorneys were fired in December 2006. Having listened to a fair amount of the hearing, the Attorney General's testimony boiled down to the following three points, reiterated ad nauseum: he does not recall participating in the decision; the decision-making process was flawed; the decision was, in hindsight, the correct one. The last point is premised on the President's authority to terminate the U.S. Attorneys at will, and the use of that power in this case was not flawed because there were no improper motives, just a flawed process. For all the hullabaloo, the hearing shed little light on the decision because, as Gonzales admitted repeatedly, he did not participate in the decision and could not recall any details. It is unlikely the Attorney General's critics will be sated by his statements, and supporters will cite the lack of a "smoking gun" showing the decision was improper. With another Republican Senator (Coburn of Oklahoma) joining the call for his resignation, Gonzales may become completely irrelevant to the investigation if he decides to leave.
Like so much in this Congressional investigation, it will be the e-mail traffic that tells the tale, particularly communications through the Republican National Committee e-mail accounts maintained by White House political aides. With the Attorney General off the hot seat, at least for the moment, the issue becomes whether there are any more e-mail "shoes" to drop, and whether the testimony of former Gonzales adviser Monica Goodling will provide fresh information, assuming she receives a grant of immunity (see earlier post here). A Washington Post article (here) discusses the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (ph)
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