Leader Blues

Monday, April 23, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Alberto and Timothy

Everyone who was hoping that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could reclaim a shred of credibility by convincing members of the Senate Judiciary Committee of his integrity had to be despondent Thursday. That includes President Bush, who had expressed reserved confidence in his old friend but whose own vanishing credibility cannot be reversed while Gonzales is running the moribund Justice Department.

Gonzales always had one important trait, unswerving loyalty to George W. Bush. It rose above everything, including the efficient and impartial administration of justice. He will serve his master best now by resigning and giving the president a chance to stop the hemorrhaging and restore public trust in the department.

Gonzales’ lame and contradictory explanations of the firings of eight U.S. attorneys had nearly every Republican on the Judiciary Committee sputtering. Only Orrin Hatch of Utah, who never heard of a Republican deception that he could not defend or a Democratic peccadillo he did not find revolting, came to the attorney general’s aid.

Even Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who was revealed by correspondence to have been primed by the White House to ask supportive and marshmallow questions of Gonzales and others, expressed dismay at Gonzales’ performance. On the matter of immediate interest to Arkansans, the firing of U.S. Attorney H. E. “Bud” Cummins III to make way for the Republican political operative Timothy Griffin, Gonzales retreated to his first story, which was that Cummins was fired not for cause but merely to satisfy White House interest in putting Griffin in a key job before the 2008 elections.

At one point, Gonzales had objected that Cummins, too, was fired because his performance was poor. Before a critical election in Missouri last year Cummins had refused a Republican request that he publicly give the Missouri governor, a Republican friend of the White House, a clean bill of health in a corruption investigation.

Cummins had been substituting in Missouri after the district attorneys there had disqualified themselves. But after he was told that he was being fired, Cummins did issue the public exoneration that the governor wanted – in violation of policy.

It was the rage of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., over Gonzales’s lies to him that gave the hearing Thursday much of its energy. Pryor is not a member of the committee ,but Republicans and Democrats alike said they were affected by the unusual bluntness of the junior senator, ordinarily the most sweetly dispositioned member of the Senate. Pryor used the word “lied.”

Gonzales told Pryor that Griffin’s “interim” appointment would be submitted to the Senate for confirmation, but internal memos showed that the Justice Department intended to do the opposite, drag things out until it was too late to replace Griffin before the 2008 election. Griffin is in his fifth month on the job.

Meantime, enterprising re-porters examining Griffin’s fanciful résumé discovered that his blistering record as a prosecutor was nothing more than paper shuffling. In short stints in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and federal prosecutor offices he had never taken a single case to trial. His career has consisted almost altogether of political hatchet work.

Whatever its designs, the White House wanted him doing what he does best in the eastern district of Arkansas through 2008. It is time to close that chapter, too.