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One Hot Tamale in Mexico

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 7:58 AM

It reminded me of many of Bill Clinton's foreign trips.

The 42nd president would visit heads of state around the world, and at the inevitable joint news conference, when he wanted to talk about geopolitics, reporters would pepper him with questions about Whitewater or fundraising or Paula or Monica or some other scandal back home.

The 43rd president had that experience in Mexico yesterday. Standing with the country's new leader, Felipe Calderon, anxious to talk up his week in Latin America, Bush found himself having to defend Alberto Gonzales and the firing of a bunch of U.S. attorneys.

His bottom line: MWM.

"Mistakes were made. And I'm frankly not happy about them."

Ah, exactly who made the mistakes, Mr. President?

It's no coincidence that Gonzales also used that Reagan-era formulation.

But the MWM line, as Bush explained it, applied to how Justice explained the firings to the Hill. (Meaning, it looks on the surface to have been quite misleading.) The dismissals themselves were appropriate, in Bush's view (even if one prosecutor was dumped to make room for a former Karl Rove deputy and RNC oppo researcher).

It's interesting that Bush says he passed on to Gonzales (who can't quite remember the conversation) complaints from Republicans on the Hill about local prosecutors (but didn't mention any names).

Some would argue that it's perfectly all right to consider politics in naming political appointees (though pressing prosecutors about pending investigations--as Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson did--should be absolutely off-limits). It's not perfectly all right, though, to taint people's reputations by saying their dismissals were performance-related if the problem is that they weren't being aggressive enough in investigating Democrats.

But remember: MWM.

The larger problem for Gonzales, who hit the morning shows yesterday, is that he's now being depicted as the Justice Department's Michael Brown, barely aware of what's going on in his department. If it was all the fault of now-resigned deputy Kyle Sampson, where was the AG?

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