I was busy yesterday and didn't get a chance to follow up on Alberto Gonzales's little trip to Capitol Hill that I teased on Thursday morning. But as I started looking at some of the coverage, I realized that it wasn't so much that I didn't follow up myself as that there was nothing really to follow up on. Apparently (I wish I could write surprisingly, but I can't) nothing much happened. The Dems asked some questions. The attorney general didn't answer them. And then everybody went home.
Apparently the Prez has had a heart-to-heart talk with Gonzales and assured him that there's nothing whatsoever Gonzales could do to get fired. It looks like Bush didn't call him the "eternal general" last week for nothing. This wasn't the Gonzales we'd seen in front of the sentence, flustered and supremely worried about his job and reputation. This was a Gonzales who had no worries, who wasn't concerned about what he might face from the House Judiciary Committee because they just weren't important enough to matter. Here's how Dana Milbank described the scene in The Washington Post:
The witness was already grinning when he hopped out of his SUV in the morning, accompanied by a dozen aides and bodyguards. Sitting at the witness table, he clenched his jaw, narrowed his eyes and, for the benefit of the cameras, kept his gaze fixed on Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.).
"These points are basically the same ones that I made before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month," Gonzales said in his opening statement. "My feelings and recollections about this matter have not changed since that time."
As the questions came, Gonzales remained approximately the same temperature as the ice water in his pitcher.
Dahlia Lithwick had more of the same:
No more angry outbursts, no bitter attempts at self-justification. Instead, the AG answers some questions with a giggle and most others with the same old catchphrases we've heard so often: He has consistently failed to investigate any wrongdoing at the Justice Department out of "deference to the integrity of the ongoing investigations." The decisions about which U.S. attorneys made Kyle Sampson's magic list were the "consensus recommendations of the senior leadership of the department." Over and again, ever in identical language, Gonzales "accepts full responsibility for the decision" just as he insists that he played only a "limited role" in the decision-making. The fact that the attorney general can't even be bothered to pull out a thesaurus after all these weeks—even if only to create the illusion that these nonanswers come from him as opposed to a list of pre-approved talking points—reveals just how little he cares about what Congress and the public think of him anymore.
There was one moment that almost tripped him up, but he quickly regained his composure. Back to Milbank:
Finally, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) cruelly turned Gonzales's ignorance against him: "You said you didn't know who put [U.S. Attorney David] Iglesias on the list" to be fired?
"That is correct," Gonzales said.
"But you said you knew the president and the vice president didn't," Cohen pointed out. "How do you know they didn't?"
Gonzales paused, trapped. "Well, I just know that they would not do that," he said.
The Bible says that God will reward a childlike faith. Apparently we now know that so will George W. Bush.
So it seems that Alberto has either found peace within himself or a nice big prescription for Prozac. Clearly there's no point talking to him any more until there are more substantive facts to throw at him. The investigation has to move forward on other fronts, and it's started to do that with former Gonzales aide Monica Goodling finally getting the immunity she's been seeking to testify to Congress. That old legal truism is worth remembering: "You don't need immunity if you haven't done anything wrong." Will she have any juicy info to pass along? Well, that's what we seem to be getting set up for. They're looking to have Goodling testify to House Judiciary before the end of the month. Knowing how slowly things move in Washington, though, I'm not holding my breath.
While we wait for the lid to be blown off all of this (or . . . something), read Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's special to the National Law Journal, "Why He Should Go Now."