Another Hearing, Another Chance to Say Nothing

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, left, again showed himself to be a man of few words and fewer answers.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, left, again showed himself to be a man of few words and fewer answers. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, May 11, 2007

Alberto Gonzales is not a details guy.

During the attorney general's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, he was tossed a softball question by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who wanted to know how many lawyers there are in the Justice Department.

Gonzales was flummoxed. "Oh, about, I think, 10,000 to 15,000," he answered.

So, the nation's top law-enforcement official thinks maybe he has 10,000 lawyers on staff -- or maybe he has 50 percent more than that?

For the record, the answer to Lundgren's question is Option A: 10,000 lawyers. This tally, of course, doesn't include the eight U.S. attorneys whose removal Gonzales approved, starting his current woes over alleged politicization of the Justice Department.

But, defying expectations, the list of lawyers working for the Justice Department continues to include Gonzales himself. President Bush's decision to keep Gonzales has confounded lawmakers in both parties who have called for him to go -- but, on the positive side, it gives Gonzales more time to learn all those pesky details about the department he is running.

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) asked what proportion of Justice's resources go to counterterrorism. "I don't know if I can break it down in terms of assets or resources," Gonzales answered.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) asked about a Congressional Research Service report about the Justice Department's firing of U.S. attorneys. "I'm not familiar with the CRS report," the attorney general said.

Low morale at the Justice Department? "I don't know what's the source of that statement." Why a well-respected U.S. attorney was fired? "That's something you'd have to ask others." White House plans to force out another U.S. attorney? "I think I may be aware of that, based on my review. I can't remember."

Finally, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) cruelly turned Gonzales's ignorance against him: "You said you didn't know who put [U.S. Attorney David] Iglesias on the list" to be fired?

"That is correct," Gonzales said.

"But you said you knew the president and the vice president didn't," Cohen pointed out. "How do you know they didn't?"

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