The Gonzales Clown Show

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, April 20, 2007; 1:16 PM

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took another massive blow to his reputation yesterday, but he also continued doing the White House an enormous service.

As long as Gonzales remains front and center in the furor over last year's mass firing of U.S. attorneys -- as long as his goofy stonewalling continues to distract attention from all the elements of the purge that point so incriminatingly toward the White House -- he simply enhances his position as the ultimate "loyal Bushie."

Absolutely nothing Gonzales said yesterday cast doubt on the theory that some if not all of the prosecutors were fired because they had somehow inspired the wrath of presidential adviser Karl Rove and his staff of brass-knuckled political operatives.

But Gonzales didn't add fuel to the fire, either. It was a classic stalling maneuver. Gonzales was entirely unable to explain to anyone's satisfaction why those U.S. attorneys were fired -- although he comically insisted that he was sure he had made the decision himself, and that it was the right one.

It's no surprise, therefore, that President Bush expressed delight over Gonzales's testimony -- even as some White House aides privately told CNN that he hadn't helped himself at all.

"President Bush was pleased with the Attorney General's testimony today," the White House announced last night. And this morning on CNN, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was in full spin mode, trying to make the argument that the hearing "proved, once again, that there is no credible allegation of anything improper happening or any wrongdoing."

Today's news coverage is appropriately blistering, but in its focus on the public clown show, and on what was said -- rather than on what was not said -- it is not as incisive as today's commentary. So I'll start with that.

Opinion Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it's hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge. . . .

"At the end of the day, we were left wondering why the nation's chief law-enforcement officer would paint himself as a bumbling fool. Perhaps it's because the alternative is that he is not telling the truth. There is strong evidence that this purge was directed from the White House, and that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, were deeply involved. . . .

"[I]f we believe the testimony that neither he nor any other senior Justice Department official was calling the shots on the purge, then the public needs to know who was. That is why the Judiciary Committee must stick to its insistence that Mr. Rove, Ms. Miers and other White House officials testify in public and under oath and that all documents be turned over to Congress, including e-mail messages by Mr. Rove that the Republican Party has yet to produce."

The USA Today editorial board writes that Gonzales offered "little new insight into why the eight were fired and who compiled the hit list. And the public had no answer to the central question in this controversy: Are the nation's most powerful prosecutors still independent, or has Gonzales allowed his Justice Department to become a political extension of the White House?

"The attorney general's much anticipated appearance did little to eliminate the perception that he has either lied about his role in the firings or that he was so inattentive he allowed key decisions to be made by youthful underlings."

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