Gonzales Dug His Own Grave, and Many Are Happy to Dance on It

Photographers transmit their images of the attorney general's news conference.
Photographers transmit their images of the attorney general's news conference. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned his post in a familiar way -- with one final whopper.

A White House spokesman said yesterday that President Bush accepted the beleaguered attorney general's resignation on Friday afternoon. But when New York Times reporters called on Saturday to ask about word of Gonzales's departure, the attorney general directed his spokesman to deny the rumors.

For a man accused of lying to Congress, it was a fitting way to go out.

Equally emblematic was the way in which Gonzales announced his departure yesterday morning. From "good morning" to "God bless America," he spoke for all of one minute and 41 seconds -- during which he managed to consult his written statement 26 times and to avoid saying a single word about the roiling scandals that finally forced him to quit. He entered the Justice Department conference room with a grin and departed without taking any of the questions shouted at his back:

"Why are you leaving?"

"Why now?"

"Why did you deny the resignation?"

Neither were the questions answered by Gonzales's resignation letter, which the White House released later -- complete with a grammatical error in the second sentence.

Then again, nobody was waiting for Gonzales's answers yesterday. The dancing had already begun atop the AG's fresh grave.

At 8:17 a.m. -- four minutes after the first bulletin crossed the news wires and more than two hours before Gonzales's formal announcement, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement celebrating that "the attorney general has done the right thing and stepped down."

Democratic presidential candidates held a mini Gonzales primary. John Edwards was the first out with a statement, at 8:34 a.m., followed by Barack Obama (9:09), Bill Richardson (9:28), Joe Biden (10:15) and Chris Dodd (11:12). Hillary Rodham Clinton (11:04) was uncharacteristically slow -- but she leapfrogged ahead of the pack by condemning not only Gonzales but also his rumored replacement, Michael Chertoff.

A lonely group of Republicans spoke up to defend Gonzales. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) condemned the "absurd political theater" and Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) told MSNBC that he hated to see "a good man chewed up and spit out." But the Republican presidential candidates were conspicuously silent. Rudy Giuliani, the front-runner, issued a press release at 9:30 proclaiming: "Dems Will Raise Taxes."

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