Who's Scripting Gonzales?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 26, 2007; 1:36 PM

Why did Attorney General Alberto Gonzales go before the television cameras two weeks ago and deny that he knew anything about last year's firings of U.S. attorneys, when -- as we just learned from yet another Friday-night document dump -- he approved them during an hour-long meeting in November?

Did that meeting not make an impression? Did he choose to lie about it? Was he secretly drawing a distinction between giving his approval and knowing anything about what he had given his approval for?

Or was he just reading whatever was put in front of him?

It's no secret in Washington that Gonzales is not an autonomous player. His entire career has been as an enabler of George Bush. He does what he's told.

When he was White House counsel, for instance, he was widely seen as being under the thrall of vice presidential counsel David S. Addington on such signature issues as torture and presidential power.

It's not as obvious who has been his minder since he became attorney general two years ago. But presumably either he or, more to the point, the staffers who write his speeches and draw up his talking points still get their marching orders directly from the West Wing.

In his March 13 statement, Gonzales took responsibility for everything that had happened at the Department of Justice, even while depicting himself as a detached CEO who didn't know what his senior aides were doing. He acknowledged that mistakes had been made, but not what they were or who made them.

As I wrote in my March 14 column, the result was that Gonzales took some fire, while at the same time creating a diversion -- by distracting journalists from elements of the scandal that lead directly to the heart of the White House.

And now, with his central talking point exposed as clumsy dishonesty, it's clear that whoever prepped Gonzales and sent him out to face the media was more focused on White House interests than on telling the truth.

Friday Night Document Dump

Dan Eggen writes in Saturday's Washington Post: "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with senior aides on Nov. 27 to review a plan to fire a group of U.S. attorneys, according to documents released last night, a disclosure that contradicts Gonzales's previous statement that he was not involved in 'any discussions' about the dismissals. . . .

"The hour-long November meeting in the attorney general's conference room included Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and four other senior Justice officials, including the Gonzales aide who coordinated the firings, then-Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson, records show. . . .

"Spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said last night that there is no 'inconsistency' between the Nov. 27 meeting and Gonzales's remarks. She argued that Gonzales was simply emphasizing at the news conference that he was not involved in the details of Sampson's plans."

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