The resignation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general clears the decks so President Bush can push his agenda without needless distractions.
The Bush administration has enough problems and challenges to deal with without the political sideshow that Gonzales had come to represent.
“I believe the AG put his country above his personal interests,” says Brad Blakeman, a former Bush White House aide who heads Freedom’s Watch, a new conservative group. “He knew when Congress returned he would be a distraction, so he said it’s time to move on.”
By all accounts, Gonzales, a Harvard Law School graduate, was an excellent White House counsel. But he clearly had shortcomings managing the Justice Department and testifying in a persuasive fashion to members of Congress.
To be sure, Democrats manufactured a scandal by pouncing on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys to create the impression that the Justice Department and the White House did something improper. In fact, the firings were no more improper than the Clinton administration’s dismissal of 93 U.S. attorneys in 1993.
Like Cabinet officers, U.S. attorneys are political appointees serving at the pleasure of the president. Moreover, a fair reading of the e-mails relating to the firings makes it clear that, rightly or wrongly, the eight were singled out because of job performance.
But what is disturbing about the firings is that, because of the clumsy way they were handled and the subsequent contradictory accounts by the Justice Department, the administration turned Republican allies into enemies and gave the Democrats an opening to concoct a scandal. Even Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, became a Gonzales critic.
More troubling, Democrats used misgivings about Gonzales to inflame the debate over revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The measure allowed continuation of the government’s longstanding ability to monitor without a warrant calls between terrorists situated in foreign countries.
While the measure was being debated, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats' disapproval of Gonzales was one of the obstacles preventing progress on the update of the terror surveillance law. The revision finally passed, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to gut the measure even before it expires in February.
The controversial bedside visit Gonzales paid to his predecessor, John Ashcroft, in 2004 to discuss the legality of the administration’s terrorist surveillance program did not help. Democrats have called for a perjury investigation into Gonzales' testimony on this and other issues.
Gonzales’ father was a construction worker who laid down concrete for freeways in Houston. Later, he got a job as a maintenance worker in a rice mill. Gonzales’ father, mother, and seven other siblings lived in a two-bedroom house in North Houston. In Gonzales’ last semester at Harvard, his father died in an accident at the rice mill. “We didn’t have a telephone until I was a junior in high school,” Gonzales has told me. “We never had hot running water when I lived there. We had cold water. To take baths, we would boil water on a stove and bring the water to the bathtub.”
Thanks to the GI Bill, scholarships, loans, and part-time jobs, Gonzales managed to pay for his education.
“I hope Hispanic voters in the future will remember who appointed the first Hispanic attorney general, and who ran him out of town,” says David Fuller Holt, a former Bush legislative aide. “This is just another head on a platter for congressional Democrats at the expense of actual accomplishments,” Holt says. “I think out in middle America, we never got that engaged in the fight over U.S. attorneys, and that's probably because it was obviously a political stunt.”
In a brief statement before cameras at the Justice Department, Gonzales said he had met with President Bush on Sunday and informed him of his decision to resign, effective Sept. 17. He did not mention the controversies that pushed him from office.
“I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people,” Gonzales said.
During brief remarks in Waco, Tex., President Bush said, “After months of unfair treatment, that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision.”
Bush added, “It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”
Possible successors include Frances Fragos Townsend, the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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