Former Justice Department official Monica Goodling came across as a straight shooter today in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee — a straight shooter who got in too deep on the politics of things and lost her way a little, but not with malicious intent. She was very candid today, and she probably deserves donations to the legal defense fund that will belatedly be set up on her behalf.
That said, her testimony again made now-departing Deputy AG Paul McNulty look bad, indeed really bad, as she asserted that his testimony to Congress was (perhaps unintentionally) incomplete and that, despite the story he told, she herself did not mislead HIM when she assisted in the preparation for his testimony. Not only that, but the subtext of her story was that he was a major practitioner of the cover-one’s-own-a** school of politics.
But she also told a tale that puts AG Alberto Gonzales in an even worse light than he already has been in. She said that Gonzo, at an inappropriate time, began to tell her about his own recollection of how things went — in what she characterized as probably an innocent conversation, but one which made her uncomfortable because it could APPEAR that he was indirectly trying to “coach a witness,” namely her.
Gonzo already has been shown to be out of touch, incompetent, and, in the case of the hospital-room visit to former AG John Ashcroft, insensitive at the very least. President Bush keeps saying Gonzo should stay because he “hasn’t done anything wrong,” as if the only test of an AG’s fitness is whether or not he broke the law or directly violated an ethics rule. The test of fitness should be higher than that, though. Fitness for office involves competence and good judgment and effectiveness. Gonzo fails on all three counts. DoJ is, by many reports, hobbled by the ongoing brouhaha, and morale is reportedly quite low. The American people cannot be well served under such circumstances.
Here’s what Bush should do: He should send an emissary to Sens. Leahy, Kennedy and Schumer and say this: Look, I know you Democrats have threatened to hold up the confirmation of any new AG nominee until we hand over every single thing you demand in terms of e-mails, etc., relating to the US Attorney flap (even though there isn’t much left that we haven’t already turned over). But I MIGHT be prepared to let Gonzales go, FOR THE GOOD OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, so that we can get DoJ back up and operating at full strength, IF AND ONLY IF you agree not to hold a new nomination hostage to the USAttorney flap. By holding up a new nomination, you would not be harming me; you would be harming the American people. No matter what dispute you have with me, the citizenry deserves a fully staffed, well managed DoJ. If you do NOT tie the two issues together, we can move ahead with fixing what is broken in the department, and you can get another political scalp for your wall.
The Dems should accept that bargain. And, if they are smart, they will not obstruct a new nominee if he is qualified and sufficientily independent from the Bush inner circle or has sufficiently impressive independent qualifications that he can inspire public confidence. Among those who fill that bill are SEC Chairman Chris Cox, former Deputy AG Larry Thompson, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
What Monica Goodling and so many others have described over the course of the past three months is a Department of Justice in circumstances of Keystone Cops writ large. The public is not being well served. Replace Gonzales now!
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