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The Unspoken Rationale

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Both the President and outgoing Attorney General made brief public statements today about Alberto Gonzales' resignation, but one of the striking things about their remarks is that neither actually mentioned why Gonzales is stepping down.

I expected something vague about now being a "time for new challenges," or maybe the perfunctory "spend more time with his family." But, instead, we got nothing. I think there's a reason for that: Bush lost, and he hates admitting defeat.

At one point this morning, if you listen to the president's remarks, his tone and message became bitter, and he lashed out at those who subjected his dear friend to "months of unfair treatment." The president added:

"It's sad that we live in a time when a talented, honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

On their face, Bush's comments are transparently dumb. Gonzales wasn't "honorable"; he was a disgrace to himself and his office. Gonzales wasn't "talented"; by his own admission, a variety of important Justice Department decisions were made with Gonzales barely aware of what was going on around him. His name wasn't dragged through the mud "for political reasons"; it was dragged through the mud for legitimate reasons.

But there's another, perhaps more subtle angle to the president's comments this morning. Bush has said for months that he simply didn't care whether Democrats, Republicans, the electorate, career DoJ officials, scholars, pundits, or anyone else supported Gonzales. He had one boss, who approved of his work. Nothing else mattered.

Today, however, by whining about "unfair treatment," Bush was effectively conceding that Gonzales was hounded from office by scandal.

Consider Bush's comments and demeanor when Karl Rove announced his retirement:

"Karl Rove is moving on down the road. I've been talking to Karl for a while about his desire to spend more time with Darby and Andrew. This is a family that has made enormous sacrifices not only for our beloved state of Texas, but for a country we both love.

"We've been friends for a long time, and we're still going to be friends. I would call Karl Rove a dear friend. We've known each other as youngsters interested in serving our state. We worked together so we could be in a position to serve this country. And so I thank my friend. I'll be on the road behind you here in a little bit. I thank Darby and I thank Karl for making a tremendous sacrifice, and I wish you all the very best."

There wasn't a hint of bitterness; Rove was just stepping down because he felt like it. The scandals, the lies, the criminal behavior, the countless calls for his resignation -- none of that factored into the equation at all. Rove decided it was time to go, and that was that. White House critics, and their "unfair treatment," weren't even mentioned in passing. Rove wasn't being driven from his job; he was leaving on his own terms.

Contrast that with this morning. Bush was angry and annoyed. The president could have just as easily appeared alongside Gonzales this morning, and read the exact same comments from Rove's resignation event, and the message and tone would have been positive.

But instead the president made a tacit admission: Gonzales' scandals were too much to bear. He no longer had any credibility, and could no longer function in his job. Everything Bush had said about Gonzales not needing anyone else's support turned out to be wrong.

The president and his team could have tried to spin it the other way -- I'm genuinely surprised they didn't give it a shot -- but instead they did something unusual: they admitted defeat.

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