Cross-posted on John Kerry for President 2008
As reported today, President Bush has full confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:
“April 24 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush said he’s confident that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did “nothing wrong” in the firings of eight federal prosecutors and said Iraq’s leader is meeting U.S. expectations.
“Al could’ve done a better job and his department could’ve done a better job of just explaining why we did what we did,” Bush said in an interview in New York today on PBS television’s “Charlie Rose” show. “Instead we’ve got hearings and testimonies based on something that was perfectly legal.”
Gonzales testified April 19 before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain the circumstances behind the firing of the federal prosecutors. Bush has brushed aside calls from Democrats and some Republicans for Gonzales to resign over the dismissals, a stance he reasserted today.
“I’ve got confidence in Al,” Bush said. “He’s caught up in Washington right now; it’s what happens in that town a lot — there’s a lot of politics.’“
But this wasn’t just “a lot of politics”. This was lying. It is often not the act that gets the criminal–it is the lies and obfuscation that catches felons.
As Adam Cohen reported in the New York Times last week, some of the crimes that may have been committed include:
1. Misrepresentations to Congress. The relevant provision, 18 U.S.C. 3/5sctmark1 4/5 1505, is very broad. It is illegal to lie to Congress, and also to ”impede” it in getting information. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty indicated to Congress that the White House’s involvement in firing the United States attorneys was minimal, something that Justice Department e-mail messages suggest to be untrue.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made his own dubious assertion to Congress: ”I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons.”
The administration appears to be trying to place all of the blame on Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, who resigned after reportedly failing to inform top Justice Department officials about the White House’s role in the firings. If Mr. Sampson withheld the information from Mr. McNulty, who then misled Congress, Mr. Sampson may have violated 3/5sctmark1 4/5 1505.
But Mr. Sampson’s lawyer now says other top Justice Department officials knew of the White House’s role. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said last week that ”Kyle Sampson will not be the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy.” Congress will be looking for evidence that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. McNulty knew that what they told Congress was false or misleading.
Convictions of this kind are not common, but they happen. Just ask former White House aide David Safavian, who was convicted last year of making false statements to a Senate committee.
How does this affect President Bush?
It was James Madison himself who argued about the basis of impeaching the President:
As noted in this 1974 Judiciary Committee Report on the heels of the Watergate fiasco:
“Madison argued during the debate that the president would be subject to impeachment for “the wanton removal of meritorious officers.”71 He also contended that the power of the President unilaterally to remove subordinates was “absolutely necessary” because “it will make him in a peculiar manner, responsible for [the] conduct” of executive officers. It would, Madison said, subject him to impeachment himself, if he suffers them to perpetrate with impunity high crimes or misdemeanors against the United States, or neglects to superintend their conduct, so as to check their excesses.72”
In another comment in the report, the political firing of the U.S. Attorneys also is brought to mind:
“If, said Baldwin, the President “in a fit of passion” removed” all the good officers of the Government” and the Senate were unable to choose qualified successors, the consequence would be that the President “would be obliged to do the duties himself; or, if he did not, we would impeach him, and turn him out of office, as he had done others.”75
Whether Gonzales had the right to let the U.S. Attorneys go or not is no longer the only question this President needs to answer. It is his attempt to protect and shelter an Attorney General who has lied to Congress, denied knowledge of events, and has obstructed the very Justice he was sworn to protect.
Nothing surprises me anymore.