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Maybe Gonzales Won't Recall His Painful Day on the Hill

One protester counted how many times Alberto Gonzales said
One protester counted how many times Alberto Gonzales said "I don't recall." Another, Cindy Sheehan, offered an Iraq body count. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, April 20, 2007

Alberto Gonzales's tenure as attorney general was pronounced dead at 3:02 p.m. yesterday by Tom Coburn, M.D.

The good doctor, who also happens to be a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made this clinical judgment after watching Gonzales suffer through four hours of painful testimony. The Oklahoman listed the cause of death as management failure and other complications of the Justice Department's firing of eight federal prosecutors.

"It was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious," Coburn told the beleaguered attorney general. "You ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation."

The hearing was billed as Gonzales's chance to explain the contradictions, omissions and falsehoods in his response to the firings. But instead of contrition, the attorney general treated the committee to a mixture of arrogance, combativeness and amnesia. Even his would-be defenders on the Republican side were appalled.

"Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch," said Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"Why is your story changing?" demanded Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

"Significantly, if not totally, at variance with the facts," said Arlen Specter (Pa.), the committee's ranking Republican.

"Really deplorable," said John Cornyn (R-Tex.). After this blow, from an administration loyalist and an old Texas friend, Gonzales stuttered in his reply.

Gonzales had weeks to prepare for yesterday's hearing. But the man who sat at the witness table sounded like the sort of person who forgets where he parked his car.

Explaining his role in the botched firing of federal prosecutors, Gonzales uttered the phrase "I don't recall" and its variants ("I have no recollection," "I have no memory") 64 times. Along the way, his answer became so routine that a Marine in the crowd put down his poster protesting the Iraq war and replaced it with a running "I don't recall" tally.

Take Gonzales's tally along with that of his former chief of staff, who uttered the phrase "I don't remember" 122 times before the same committee three weeks ago, and the Justice Department might want to consider handing out Ginkgo biloba in the employee cafeteria.

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), usually an administration friend, asked about a pivotal meeting about the firings that Gonzales attended less than five months ago.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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