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Bedtime for Gonzo

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By Eugene Robinson
Friday, July 27, 2007

It's way past bedtime for Gonzo. At this point, every day Alberto Gonzales continues as attorney general means more dishonor for the office and the nation -- and higher blood pressure for Senate Judiciary Committee members trying desperately to get a straight answer out of the man.

Gonzo has managed to do something no one else in Washington has managed in years: create a spirit of true bipartisanship. After his pathetic act in front of the committee Tuesday, it's no surprise that Democrats are threatening to investigate him for perjury. But it was Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican, who looked Gonzo in the face and told him, "I do not find your testimony credible, candidly."

Specter seems ready to pop a gasket. "The hearing two days ago was devastating" for Gonzo, Specter said yesterday. "But so was the hearing before that, and so was the hearing before that."

Over time, one becomes almost numb to this administration's relentless lies and can-you-top-this transgressions. A kind of "outrage fatigue" sets in, accompanied by the knowledge that whatever it is that they've done this time, it could have been worse.

So when George W. Bush rewrote history the other day by saying that "al-Qaeda terrorists killed Americans on 9/11 [and] they're fighting us in Iraq," the tendency is to duly note that the president is not telling the truth -- there is no evidence whatsoever that al-Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't exist on Sept. 11, 2001, takes orders from Osama bin Laden -- and then move on. Hey, at least it's just talk. At least he didn't invade Iran or Pakistan. Yet.

For me, at least, Gonzo is the perfect antidote to midsummer apathy. The guy is . . . I was going to say the guy's unbelievable, but I'd just be repeating the bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill.

What set the senators a-sputtering was Gonzo's testimony about the night in 2004 when he showed up at the hospital bedside of his predecessor, John Ashcroft, to try to get him to overrule his deputy and reauthorize Bush's secret program of warrantless electronic eavesdropping. The Justice Department had concluded, most inconveniently for the White House, that the program as constituted was illegal.

James Comey, the former Ashcroft deputy who intercepted Gonzo in Ashcroft's hospital room, revealed that incident in gripping testimony earlier this year. But Gonzo had previously told Congress that there was no "serious disagreement" within the administration over the surveillance program.

Kind of a conflict there.

Asked about the glaring discrepancy, Gonzo said Tuesday that the disagreement and the hospital visit were about "other intelligence activities," and "not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people."

Specter's response: "Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?"

No one believes it. The most generous interpretation is that Gonzo, fearful of facing a perjury rap, is insisting on an artificially and dishonestly narrow definition of "the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced" -- leaving out "intelligence activities" that any reasonable person, including Comey, would consider part of the program. The nice word for that would be dissembling.


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