With Senate and Gonzales, Familiarity Breeds Contempt

"I don't trust you," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, left, shown here with Sen. Edward Kennedy, announced to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales while swearing him in. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

White House officials are vying to be the first person held in "contempt of Congress" for refusing to cooperate with probes of the Bush administration.

Turns out the contempt is mutual.

After four hours of questioning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't even require a vote to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Congress is in contempt of Gonzales.

Consider some of the invective directed at the attorney general as he sat hunched and grim at the witness table:

"The department is dysfunctional. . . . Every week a new issue arises. . . . That is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General. . . . The list goes on and on. . . . Is your department functioning? . . . What credibility is left for you? . . . Do you expect us to believe that? . . . Your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable."

And that was just from the top Republican on the committee, Arlen Specter (Pa.). Democrats had to scramble to keep up with the ranking member's contempt.

"I don't trust you," announced Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who paused, while swearing in the witness, to emphasize "nothing but the truth" -- as if lecturing a child.

"You just constantly change the story, seemingly to fit your needs to wiggle out of being caught," added Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

"You, sir, are in fact the problem," submitted Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

But the scandal-ridden Gonzales has the support of the only person who matters -- President Bush -- and that allowed him to be as contemptuous as he was contemptible. To Leahy: "I think you've misunderstood my response." To Specter: "I'm not going to answer this question." To Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): "I'm not going to get in a public discussion here."

While the attorney general and the lawmakers exchanged mutual disregards, hecklers (one in a pink negligee and a sign proposing "Give Gonzo a pink slip") interrupted the proceedings with chants of "liar" and "resign." At hearing's end, they leaped over chairs, getting close enough to Gonzales to make him flinch.

Why would Gonzales wish to stay in the job? "That's a very good question," the witness acknowledged.

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