Is Gonzales a Diversion?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, March 14, 2007; 1:20 PM

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is taking fire -- but he may also be creating a diversion.

Whether by accident or by design, his public statements are distracting journalists from elements of the prosecutor-purge scandal that lead directly to the heart of the White House.

Gonzales's inattentive management of the Justice Department and the repeated deception of Congress by senior Justice officials are certainly important issues.

But the central question before us is whether the unprecedented mid-term purge of eight U.S. attorneys was the result of their having failed to use their offices to pillory Democrats as much as the White House wanted them to.

Negligence and deceit are one thing; a policy of requiring law-enforcement officials to abuse the justice system for partisan ends is quite another. (See yesterday's column.)

In a news conference yesterday and on a tour of the television morning shows today, Gonzales repeatedly acknowledged that "mistakes were made" and accepted responsibility for the fact that "incomplete" information "may have been communicated" to Congress.

But his collection of talking points were ultimately meaningless, passive and nonresponsive.

Meanwhile, the White House is sticking to its position that the prosecutors were removed for cause -- while hoping no one remembers that its official position also used to include the now-jettisoned insistence that Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, wasn't involved.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett told reporters yesterday that Gonzales still has the confidence of the president, because "He's a stand up guy."

Asked about all the cumulative credibility crises suddenly facing the White House, Bartlett accused reporters of trying to "connect a lot of dots that aren't connectable" -- then attributed all the controversy to the administration's diligence against terror: "I think if you look back at any presidency, issues like this come up all the time, particularly when we are such an active government that is engaged in the war and . . . where we're trying to prevent terrorists from attacking our homeland.

The Gonzales News Conference

Here's the transcript of Gonzales's news conference yesterday.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post examines some of the contradictions:

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