Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's performance yesterday while testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee was nothing more than a desperate attempt to cover up the gross improprieties of the Bush White House. The chronology of events that led to the firing of the eight United States Attorneys last December seems to have gone something like this:
Karl Rove produced a list of U.S. Attorneys to be canned for not being sufficiently partisan in the cases they chose to prosecute.
Monica Goodling, the Pat Robertson law school graduate and White House liaison with the Department of Justice, brought Rove's list over to the Attorney General's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.
Sampson "aggregated" the names on the list and passed them on to his golfing partner, friend, and mentor Gonzales.
Gonzales then signed off on the political purge without so much as a second thought because he knew that's what the White House wanted. Gonzales did not question the merits of Rove's list, or look at the performance evaluations, or even give courtesy calls to the targeted attorneys. Gonzales fired them in a pretty brutal manner, but what would you expect from a guy who argued in favor of torturing people?
What's more, the purge list was circulating at the same time Rove's top aide, Scott Jennings, was running around the Capitol giving power-point presentations to Republican officials, including the Republican darling Lurita Doan of the General Services Administration, about how best to use federal government agencies to help the GOP win back the House and Senate in 2008. (It was a clear violation of the Hatch Act.)
Karl Rove intended the purge of the U.S. Attorneys to accomplish at least four simultaneous results:
1). Stop or obstruct investigations into Republican public corruption cases. Rove wished to block future "Duke" Cunningham-type prosecutions from emerging that could damage Republicans in 2008.
2). Make it clear to the other eighty-five U.S. Attorneys their jobs were on the line if they did not show sufficient fealty to Rove's political project. The firings threatened them with the prospect of being replaced by "loyal Bushies," (as Sampson put it). Any U.S. Attorney found to be overly aggressive in prosecuting Republican officials on corruption charges might end up with his or her head on a platter.
3). Pepper into the U.S. Attorney offices new super-loyal Republican partisans who would initiate spurious lawsuits against Democratic officials in vital swing districts and states that could be helpful in 2008. Rove wanted to promote prosecutors in the mold of Milwaukee's Steven Biskupic, who brought a groundless suit against a subordinate of Wisconsin's Democratic governor so his Republican challenger could run TV attack ads slamming him for "corruption." (Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District subsequently tossed out the case saying the evidence was "beyond thin," but not before the political damage had been done.)
4). Direct the new Rove loyalists in the U.S. Attorney offices to employ their powers to assist Republican voter-suppression activities with the aim of disfranchising African-American and other Democratic voters through specious "voter fraud" cases.
Gonzales owes his entire legal career to George W. Bush. In his confirmation hearing he promised to cast off his role as Bush's consigliere when he became head of Justice Department. This promise has been proven hollow.
It is time for Chairman Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee to take the gloves off and issue subpoenas for Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to testify not only about the improper firing of the attorneys, but about the cover-up that followed.