Alberto Gonzales will soon be ejected from the Justice Department. Bush’s Attorney General has been caught in too many flagrant lies and abuses. The real question is whether Gonzo’s fall will signal the beginning of the end of the Bush reign.
Gonzo’s fall will be widely seen as a result of shenanigans and deceits involving the firing of 8 U.S. attorneys. The White House and top Justice Department officials seem to have colluded to deep-six attorneys who threatened Republican congressmen or appointees. The pending congressional testimony by Gonzo’s former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, could create new problems for the White House.
But Bush is probably in much greater danger from the derailing a Justice Department investigation into Gonzo’s possibly criminality. Murray Waas, one of the best investigative journalists in DC, has a new piece on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s role in derailing a Justice Department investigation of his own possible criminality. Waas reported last Thursday at the National Journal web page.
Shortly before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush last year on whether to shut down a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration’s warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation, according to government records and interviews. Bush personally intervened to sideline the Justice Department probe in April 2006 by taking the unusual step of denying investigators the security clearances necessary for their work.
The Justice Department investigation could have exposed on the role of Bush and his top advisors in masterminding a program that some of the federal government’s top experts considered to be clearly illegal. Waas noted, "According to accounts that Gonzales and his aides gave to others in the department, Gonzales did advise Bush on the issue of the OPR inquiry."
Thus, Bush may have knowingly derailed an investigation that could have exposed his own criminal conduct. This may be even too brazen an abuse of power for many Republicans to stomach.
It is ironic that Gonzo will probably get sunk for his role in firing and lying about U.S. attorneys, considering that he had so many worse offenses. It was only a few months ago that Gonzales notified a shocked Senate Judiciary Committee that the Constitution did not guarantee habeas corpus, despite explicit language to the contrary.
In early 2002, Gonzo wrote a memo to Bush effectively urging him to scorn prohibitions in federal law and in the Geneva Convention banning torture. Gonzales, then serving as White House counsel, revealed: "The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
On June 22, 2004, Gonzales publicly declared that Bush possessed "commander-in-chief override power" over the Constitution and the federal law in the conflict with Al Qaeda. This "override power" is something that exists in the minds of conservative absolutists, not the Constitution.
In January 2005, after Bush nominated him to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General, Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) asked what, in most hearings, would have been considered a slow-pitch question: "Do you believe there are circumstances where… the War Crimes Act would not apply to U.S. personnel?"
Gonzales responded as if he had been asked to solve the riddle of the Sphinx: "Senator, I don’t believe that that would be the case. But I would like the opportunity — I know I want to be very candid with you and obviously thorough in my response to that question. It is sort of a legal conclusion, and I would like to have the opportunity to get back to you on that."
Durbin later asked: "Can U.S. personnel legally engage in torture under any circumstances?" Gonzales again struggled: "I don’t believe so, but I’d want to get back to you on that and make sure I don’t provide a misleading answer." Torture was obviously going to be the hottest topic of the confirmation hearing, and yet Gonzales repeatedly sounded as if it was a novel topic that he would need to visit a law library to learn about before forming an opinion.
Gonzales will be difficult to replace — in more ways that one. The Senate Democrats will probably not confirm some obvious hatchet man. Bush has "benefitted" from two Attorney Generals who were profoundly dishonest and demagogic. No matter what the Bush administration did, they could be counted on to rubberstamp it as legal — or "close enough for government work" legal.
If the next Attorney General is halfway honest and opens the files of what has been done since 2001, even damn moderates will be shocked. There are bombshells waiting to detonate on the torture scandal, on Iraq, and other dishonest and illegal gross abuses. For instance, the ACLU released a CIA letter in November confirming the existence of "a directive signed by President Bush granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees." This confirms a May 2004 email from the FBI’s "On Scene Commander" in Baghdad regarding a secret "presidential Executive Order" permitting extreme interrogation techniques considered illegal by the FBI including "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods," stress positions, and military dogs.
The Justice Department has so far blocked release of Bush’s secret order. If this Bush order becomes public, it may be akin to a 1972 memo from Richard Nixon specifying the exact methods of lock-picking the Watergate burglars should use. Bush’s involvement in the torture scandal may be far deeper than Nixon’s involvement in Watergate.
The Bush administration has survived because it has succeeded in keeping the lid on so many scandals. Any change in top personnel raises the risks of lids slipping. New appointees will not want to put their heads on the chopping block to cover up crimes that occurred before they got the corner office.
Democratic subpoenas are beginning to darken the D.C. sky like the English arrows at Agincourt. The subpoenas and scandals generate congressional testimony which spur the number of political appointees who could be indicted for perjury. The scandals are accelerating while support for the Bush administration seems to be collapsing.
At best, Bush may need to award more Medals of Freedom this year than ever before. At worst, he may need to resurrect Gerald Ford and his all-inclusive "from the first day to the last day" pardon for himself and his nearest, dearest co-conspirators.
James Bovard [send him mail] is the author of the just-released Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Terrorism & Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil. He serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. Visit his website.