Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is a well-meaning man who obviously has been Peter-Principled into a position that we Americans cannot afford to have him occupy. He ought to resign. I kept an ear on his testimony most of the day yesterday, and noted that he seemed clueless but honest. Reading further accounts in sources from across the political spectrum this morning leads me to conclude that he is not just clueless, but hopeless. Here’s a guy who can’t even remember a key meeting where key documents were passed around about a two-year review process that would result in the replacement of seven of the most important legal officers in the country. NO recollection of ANY specifics of the meeting! And here’s a man who cannot even remember a conversation with the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES about a specific U.S. Attorney, when the president himself remembers the meeting even though that is only one small realm of the president’s duties while oversight of USAs is a key function of the AG’s job.
Gonzales was so incurious about all this that he agreed to the replacements even though he did not even, at the time, know what the reasons were for the firings of two of the seven.
He let an asinine deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty, run amuck. The firing of John McKay seems to have been predicated more on McNulty’s hurt feelings than anything else. McKay had the temerity to ask other USAs to sign a letter complaining about one of McNulty’s pet projects. Apparently, McKay actually performed the project well, but he had the sheer gall, horror of horrors, to object to the project. That’s not disloyalty, it’s called doing one’s job. At the level of a USA, the USA has not just a right but an obligation to tell his superiors that his professional judgment is that the superiors are making a mistake. Failing to carry out their orders would be one thing, definitely punishable. But objecting to it while still carrying it out: That’s admirable, laudable, supremely professional. McKay should never have been let go. Neither should poor Margaret Chiara, and neither should Kevin Ryan. One Republican senator yesterday (I forget whom) probably put it best when he said that some of the firings were based more on personal reasons than professional ones.
For allowing this to happen, also, Gonzales should go. As should McNulty. As should David Margolis, the career Justice employee whose hands were all over this.
There is no “scandal” in the replacement of the USAs, but the job of AG requires a competence above the level of avoiding legal impropriety. New leadership is desperately needed at Justice, notwithstanding several departments that do seem to be doing a pretty good job (counterterrorism, for example, presumably, based on the continuing success at interdicting bad guys and the lack of any major successful terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11). Alberto Gonzales is distracted, inarticulate, unfocused — in short, incompetent. I feel sorry for him, because he obviously means well. But his testimony yesterday was just the most recent in a long series of embarrassments, and his performance overall has been mediocre at bestt. The president serves himself and the country badly if he does not replace Gonzales, soon, with a strong manager of independent stature, somebody like Mike Chertoff or Christopher Cox or Larry Thompson or Jim Talent.
Gonzales must go.