ATTORNEY GENERAL Alberto R. Gonzales's testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys "increased my confidence in his ability to do the job," President Bush said yesterday. Maybe that's because he didn't actually watch the testimony -- he was on the road that day.
In fact, Mr. Gonzales's testimony was anything but reassuring about his capacity to lead the department. He emerged, once again, as a negligent manager, scarcely aware of the major personnel moves his department was about to make in the president's name.
"I now understand that there was a conversation between myself and the president," Mr. Gonzales said at one point, acknowledging that he had discussed New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias with Mr. Bush, though he didn't actually remember doing so. Is this really what Mr. Bush wants in the nation's chief law enforcement officer?
Another question: The president had acknowledged that Mr. Gonzales had work to do to repair his credibility with lawmakers. Does it not matter that he failed to do so?
We're not talking about Democrats who were never going to be mollified, but Republicans, and not just mavericks in the party, who are fed up with Mr. Gonzales. "The attorney general's testimony was very, very damaging to his own credibility. It has been damaging to the administration," Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the committee's ranking Republican, said on "Fox News Sunday." At some point, the president has to take that into account.
In the meantime, the focus on Mr. Gonzales is obscuring the need for more information about the firings, especially of Mr. Iglesias, including evidence from the White House officials involved. Mr. Specter has proposed a reasonable accommodation to obtain White House testimony, starting with closed-door, but transcribed, hearings.
The White House has been sticking to its unacceptable, take-it-or-leave-it offer of one-time, closed-door conversations without transcripts. "I think the ball is still in the Democrats' court; they haven't decided whether or not to take us up on our offer," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday. Democrats are in control of Congress, and they have subpoena power. The administration's intransigence could leave it with a worse outcome than if it showed some willingness, even belatedly, to negotiate.