Friday, May 18, 2007
Democrat Senators Charles Schumer and Diana Feinstein announced that they will introduce a "No Confidence" resolution on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (AP story here). While the firing of nine U.S. Attorney's has generated significant controversy, that issue seemed to be dying down as President Bush made clear his continuing confidence in the Attorney General. The recent testimony by former Deputy A.G. James Comey about Gonzales personally pressuring a serious ill Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve the administration's telephone surveillance program seems to have stirred things up again. A fifth Republican Senator, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, joined the ranks of those calling for the AG to step down. But the only real power Congress has to remove a cabinet officer is impeachment, and that has only been done to one such officer in history -- Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876 on corruption charges, and he resigned before the trial in which the Senate acquitted him.
A "No Confidence" resolution and five bucks gets you a double decaf latte at Starbucks because the Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the President, and the President seems to remain pleased with Gonzales. President Bush dodged questions from the press about Comey's testimony during a briefing with outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair. The exchange (here) was:
Thank you, sir. There's been some very dramatic testimony before the Senate this week from one of your former top Justice Department officials, who describes a scene that some senators called "stunning," about a time when the wireless -- when the warrantless wiretap program was being reviewed. Sir, did you send your then Chief of Staff and White House Counsel to the bedside of John Ashcroft while he was ill to get him to approve that program? And do you believe that kind of conduct from White House officials is appropriate?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Kelly, there's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen; I'm not going to talk about it. It's a very sensitive program. I will tell you that, one, the program is necessary to protect the American people, and it's still necessary because there's still an enemy that wants to do us harm. And therefore, I have an obligation to put in place programs that honor the civil liberties of the American people; a program that was, in this case, constantly reviewed and briefed to the United States Congress. And the program, as I say, is an essential part of protecting this country. And so there will be all kinds of talk about it. As I say, I'm not going to move the issue forward by talking about something as highly sensitive -- highly classified subject. I will tell you, however, that the program is necessary.
Q Was it on your order, sir?
PRESIDENT BUSH: As I said, this program is a necessary program that was constantly reviewed and constantly briefed to the Congress. It's an important part of protecting the United States. And it's still an important part of our protection because there's still an enemy that would like to attack us. No matter how calm it may seem here in America, an enemy lurks. And they would like to strike. They would like to do harm to the American people because they have an agenda. They want to impose an ideology; they want us to retreat from the world; they want to find safe haven. And these just aren't empty words, these are the words of al Qaeda themselves. And so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people, and programs that we constantly brief to Congress.
Until the President says "Go" then the Attorney General stays. (ph)