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Here Lies a Man Impeached

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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

To understand just how important a historical figure Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is, take a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, Section 1, Site 132.

There, beneath a 12-foot monument bearing the engraved likeness of a Civil War general, lies William Worth Belknap, secretary of war during the Grant administration. In 1876, Belknap became the first -- and, to this day, the only -- Cabinet officer to be impeached.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) would like to change that.

"Never in the history of Congress have so many deceits and half-truths been purveyed on so many occasion by so few people," Inslee harrumphed in the House television studio yesterday, announcing that he had introduced a resolution to weigh impeachment proceedings against Gonzales. "If you count the number of times this attorney general has refused to shoot straight with the U.S. Congress, it has to set a congressional record."

It's doubtful the Guinness book keeps track of such records, and Inslee himself seemed at times to be describing something more misdemeanor than high crime. "It does remind me," he said, "of when I used to ask my son, 'Did you eat this ice cream cone when I told you not to?' and he told me no."

Therefore be it resolved that the attorney general of the United States be impeached for lying about frozen desserts?

Gonzales appears to be in no danger of joining Gen. Belknap anytime soon. Asked about Inslee's resolution, which was co-sponsored by 14 other Democrats, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was pointedly noncommittal. And Inslee admitted he hadn't even raised the matter with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, who would oversee the inquiry Inslee seeks into whether impeachment charges should be filed.

After all, when it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors, members of Congress have concerns closer to home. At least a dozen lawmakers are under federal investigation or indictment, and the feds this week raided the Alaska home of Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, reportedly taking particular interest in his wine cellar.

On the other hand, Gonzales has reason to worry that his fate might mix with that of Belknap, who, impeached for taking a little over $24,000 in bribes, quit before the Senate could convict him, developed gout, and died at age 61 of what was deemed a "stroke of apoplexy."

Gonzales's supporters are growing fewer as he battles accusations of perjury and other wrongdoing related to the firing of U.S. attorneys. "We invited White House officials and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend Attorney General Gonzales," host Chris Wallace reported on "Fox News Sunday." "We had no takers."

Those who are defending the attorney general are parsing their words carefully. Vice President Cheney, while telling CNN's Larry King of his "high regard" for Gonzales, said he wouldn't "get into the specifics with respect to his testimony." After Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) demanded an explanation of apparent falsehoods in Gonzales's statements, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell yesterday issued a defense based on technicalities about when a certain program got its name.

Only when the question of impeachment was raised did White House officials find a voice. President Bush's press secretary, Tony Snow, yesterday accused Inslee and his co-conspirators of "a race to be the most toxic."

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