As a Latino attorney, I've followed Alberto Gonzales' career closely. The son of migrant workers made history by rising from humble origins to become the first Hispanic U.S. attorney general. Yet Gonzales often seemed driven by personal loyalty to George W. Bush, not to the people he was sworn to serve. I was disappointed when Gonzales became enmeshed in controversy over the politically motivated firings of nine U.S. attorneys. By the time he resigned in 2007, I was as sad for him as I was for our justice system.
Now Gonzales is resurfacing, with a gift-giving idea for the holidays. He wants us to send him money. On his Website, the man who was once the most powerful Latino in the country asks for donations to his legal defense fund. He says he needs help paying off the bills associated with the inquiries into his tenure as attorney general. "Judge Gonzales fully cooperated with all investigations," his Website states, "and he has been fully vindicated."
I cannot believe Gonzales is claiming he fully cooperated with all investigations. When he appeared before Congress to discuss his role in the attorney firings, he uttered the phrase "I do not recall" more than 70 times, exasperating members of both parties. Gonzales presented himself as forgetful and totally removed from the workings of the Department of Justice. Republican Senator Arlen Spector termed him "a wily witness."
Furthermore, Gonzales has not been "fully vindicated." The investigations into the firings have been closed. But let's review the findings of these inquiries. In 2008, a report by the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded the removal of the attorneys was "fundamentally flawed" and "unsystematic and arbitrary."
In 2010, a second inquiry found that no prosecutable criminal offense was committed in the removal of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Gonzales' actions, however, "violated DOJ principles," because they were "inappropriately political." I would hardly call that vindication.
True, U.S. attorneys serve at the discretion of the president. It is not uncommon for an incoming president to dismiss the appointees of the previous administration. Bill Clinton fired almost all of the U.S. attorneys upon taking office in 1993. Yet it is highly unusual to do so in the middle of the term, let alone a second term. Still, Gonzales had many opportunities to explain his actions. He chose not to do so.
On his Website, Gonzales blames "partisan opponents" for creating a scandal to damage him. Actually, Gonzales was pretty good at creating scandals on his own. As White House counsel, he dismissed the Geneva Convention provisions protecting prisoners of war. As attorney general, he defended warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens and sanctioned kidnapping and harsh interrogations in the war against terror.
Nor were Gonzales' opponents "partisan." Before he stepped down in disgrace, he faced withering criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
I suppose Gonzales can take solace in the fact that he still has rich, important friends. Two dozen former Bush cabinet officials have signed a fund-raising letter on his behalf, including Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Tom Ridge. I find it incredibly cynical that Gonzales is appealing to the U.S. public for financial support during a period of recession and high unemployment. When he was "the people's lawyer," he acted as though he were the lawyer for only one person, namely President Bush.
As attorney general, Gonzales fumbled his responsibilities. He trampled on civil liberties, politicized the Department of Justice, and deeply embarrassed many of his fellow Latinos. Thanks to his own disrespect for the rule of law, Gonzales will never find vindication. The least he can do is accept the financial consequences of his actions and pay his own bills.
Cross-posted on Hispanic Link News Service.