Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Gonzales must go

Alberto Gonzales will go to Capitol Hill next week to persuade a skeptical Congress and public and maybe even a dubious president that he deserves another chance — is this the eighth or the ninth? — to be an effective attorney general, but he has become sadly almost beside the point. When even Sen. Mark Pryor, who broke ranks with Democrats in 2005 to confirm Gonzales, demands his resignation, he has to despair about his prospects.

In the weeks since Gonzales gave his accounts of innocence in the firing of U. S. attorneys, most notably H. E. “Bud” Cummins III of the eastern district of Arkansas, much of his narrative has been proven disingenuous or simply a lie.

E-mails and testimony by a former aide to the attorney general show that the accounts given to Congress about why and how the administration installed political hit man Tim Griffin in the job of enforcing federal law in Arkansas were flatly untruthful. The White House and the Justice Department never had any intention of subjecting Griffin to the normal confirmation process.

They would string senators along until it was too late to replace Griffin, they confided in e-mails. They knew that Griffin’s weak legal background and involvement in voter-suppression activities in Florida would propel him into trouble with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sure enough, Griffin has been in the job at Little Rock four months, his name has not been submitted to the Senate, he says he will agree to be questioned, and the White House has not nominated another for the job.

But so much has transpired in two months that the transparent dishonesty and the ineptness of the attorney general and his deputies seem nearly irrelevant. He is barely more than a symptom of the problems.

Gonzales’ top assistants, summoned to testify before Congress about what they knew about the firings of eight district attorneys, have resigned, one after insisting that she would claim the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if she were subpoenaed to talk about the role of the White House political office and counsel’s office in the firings.

Monica Goodling was a graduate of Rev. Pat Robertson’s law school, and her legal experience consisted of working in Karl Rove’s political shop at the White House under Tim Griffin.

As Gonzales’s assistant, she took the lead role at the Justice Department in getting Bud Cummins hired and replaced by Griffin. Her résumé was typical of the top echelon of the Justice Department.

The White House is refusing to let Rove and his top staff testify under oath. This week, the White House said relevant e-mails over the past two years had been destroyed, which seems to be a violation of federal record-keeping laws.

Twenty-two members of the White House staff, including Rove, have separate e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee, and they do some official government business on party e-mail addresses (ending in gwb.43.com) to avoid public scrutiny.

The White House conceded this week that Rove’s staff might have illegally used the party account for government business.
Quietly, the gwb.43.com account was figuring in another developing scandal. According to documents uncovered by the House Government Oversight Committee, a Rove aide used the account to circulate a document to some federal agencies identifying Democratic members of Congress who were vulnerable to defeat next year and discussing strategies to beat them.

“Please do not e-mail this out or let people see it,” the e-mail read. “It is a close hold, and we’re not supposed to be e-mailing it round.”

In January, Rove’s top deputy did a workshop for top employees at the General Services Administration, the big federal agency that supplies products, transportation, office space and communications for the federal bureaucracy all across the country.

He used slides outlining the Republican strategy for defeating Democratic congressmen and protecting Republicans in the 20 congressional districts that the party thought were most vulnerable next year. He also outlined the “2008 Battle for the Senate,” which targeted for defeat Pryor, Arkansas’s junior senator.

President Bush’s new appointee as head of the General Services Administration, Lurita Alexis Doan, said employees should come up with ways to use government funds and services to defeat Democrats and elect Republicans, including the selective awarding of government contracts in the districts. Testifying this month before a House committee, Doan said she could not remember what she said at the meeting. Others did.

Last fall, a book by former Arkansas Gazette reporter Tom Hamburger, now with the Los Angeles Times, recounted how Rove’s office routinely conducted such political forums in federal agencies in the year before the 2006 congressional elections and how the taxpayers’ money was employed for those ends.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees — political appointees as well as civil service workers — from engaging in election activity on official time or using government offices or equipment. But it is a safe bet that the Justice Department will not be pursuing the violations.

Law enforcement and impartial justice have different meanings now.