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Norm Stamper Headshot

Who's the CML Champ, Cheney or Gonzales?

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How's your recall? Better than Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney's, I'll bet.

Do you remember Attorney General Gonzales testifying on April 19, 2007 before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the politically-motivated firings of those U.S. Attorneys? I do. I remember arriving at the Omni Hotel in Chicago that day (okay, so I went back and searched my calendar for the exact date), and flipping on the TV. On the screen was the nation's top cop being questioned by senators, and routinely "forgetting" all but his name.

Sixty-four times the AG responded to committee questions with "I don't recall" or "I have no memory" or "I have no recollection." Now, if Gonzales really couldn't retain even the most simple and memorable facts and events he had no business occupying that vital law enforcement position in the first place.

But, honestly, how could he have forgotten? Some witnesses in civil or criminal cases seem to think "I don't recall" is a legitimate defense against being nailed for lying under oath. They're wrong. (Proving perjury is another matter, its pursuit testing not only the talents but the political will and moral courage of a given prosecutor.)

If Gonzales had been one of my cops I would have had no choice but to fire him: A prosecutor wouldn't allow him to take the stand in a shoplifting trial.

Now comes evidence that the 46th vice president of the United States may have one-upped Gonzales when it comes to CMLs (convenient memory lapses). The recently released reports into Dick Cheney's role in the Valerie Plame outing reveal that the vice president was "unable" to remember the most basic information. "On 72 occasions, according to the 28-page FBI summary, Cheney equivocated to the FBI during his lengthy May 2004 interview, saying he could not be certain in his answers to questions about matters large and small in the Plame controversy." The source of that statement? FOXNews.com.

Everyone in the Justice Department knew Alberto Gonzales was no Bobby Kennedy, or Elliot Richardson, or Janet Reno -- hell, he was no John Ashcroft, with whom he surely competed for the title of worst attorney general ever. But Dick Cheney?

Cheney is certain to go down as the most influential and powerful veep in American history. He is as clever as he is disdainful of the law. His long political career includes stints as House minority whip, chief of staff to Gerald Ford, Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush, director of the Council on Foreign Relations, and, of course, two full terms as vice president of the United States of America. And let's not forget his Clinton-years tenure as chair and CEO of the Fortune 500 Company Halliburton.

You don't hold these kinds of positions, or, for that matter, an advanced degree in political science without a demonstrated capacity to commit certain facts and events to memory. And to record key observations in logs or file memos, later to be used as recall refreshment. After all, there are memoirs to write (Cheney's is due in 2011).

If you're the second most powerful person of the most powerful democratic nation on earth don't you owe it to the country to invest in a dime store diary, or a career supply of ginko bilbao?

Unless, of course, you know full well that what you're doing at the time is unethical or illegal. In which case, you do as Gonzales and Cheney did: avoid a paper trail, and scrub one's memory of all damning details.

Today, nobody listens to Alberto Gonzales in large part because, putting it charitably, he was not merely an unprincipled attorney general but an uninspired one. Of course, we also tune him out because we can't be sure he's telling the truth.

Shouldn't the same fate befall Dick Cheney? I have no doubt Fox and other right-tilting media will continue to give him (and his chatty, irrelevant daughter) a microphone. But one can hope, with these recent revelations, even more Americans will recognize the former vice president for what he is.

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