Bush's Inexplicable Confidence

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; 1:38 PM

White House aides are quietly telling reporters they now think Attorney General Alberto Gonzales can ride out the still-raging controversy over last year's purge of U.S. attorneys.

That's their explanation for President Bush's otherwise inexplicable assertion yesterday morning that Gonzales's feeble stonewalling in a congressional hearing last week actually increased his confidence in the attorney general's ability to do his job.

But does the White House really think this scandal will pass?

More likely, Bush and his aides are stalling for time, hoping to keep the public in the dark about what really prompted the prosecutor purge for as long as possible, taking some pleasure in befuddling congressional investigators -- and letting Gonzales's limp corpse take fire that might otherwise be aimed at the White House directly.

The Coverage

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said his confidence in Alberto R. Gonzales has grown as a result of the attorney general's testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the administration moved to end speculation that Gonzales would step down after a performance criticized by senators in both parties. . . .

"Soon after Bush spoke, Gonzales said he has no plans to resign. 'I will stay as long as I feel I can be effective,' the attorney general said at a news conference called to discuss identity theft. 'And I believe I can be effective.'

"Taken together, White House advisers and consultants said, the comments suggested that the president intends to ride out the storm despite qualms among Republican lawmakers and even some of his own aides. . . .

"[T]he White House appears to have concluded that Gonzales has done nothing to merit firing -- and that letting him go would only create more political problems for the administration. Bush also seems to be digging in against the proposition that his appointments can be dictated from Capitol Hill."

Jim Rutenberg and Neil A. Lewis write in the New York Times: "One senior Republican Congressional aide at work in Washington on Monday, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, called Mr. Bush's statement that his confidence in Mr. Gonzales had grown after his testimony 'curious'; another senior Republican aide asked, 'Was he watching the same hearing as everyone else?'"

But here's the (official) explanation: "Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor, said in an interview that as far as the White House was concerned, the public was not paying much attention to the debate over Mr. Gonzales and that there was 'a disconnect' between what he termed Washington's fascination with the issue and the public's interest in it.

"'There's no traction with the public because there is no serious allegation of wrongdoing,' Mr. Bartlett said.

"And, if Mr. Gonzales were to step down, officials argued, it would wrongly lead the public to conclude that he had done something wrong."

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