D-Day Minus 1

Down and on the way out.
April 16 2007 2:43 PM

Gonzo-Meter

D-Day Minus 1

Today's chance of a Gonzales departure: 92 percent
(Previously: 85 percent)

The Gonzo-Meter

Tuesday is the big day for Alberto Gonzales. He's testifying in front of the Senate judiciary committee. To prepare the ground, he's lowering expectations. In the Washington Post on Sunday, the embattled attorney general wrote an embarrassing opinion column filled with such flaccid spin that we can only guess that the idea was to make his live testimony seem dazzling by comparison. Either that, or whoever erased all of those White House e-mails is also submitting satirical op-eds. But no, Gonzales plans to offer a version of the same as his opening statement tomorrow, which means he may not have to resign. There may be nothing left of him.

Titled "Nothing Improper," Gonzales' op-ed attempts to shift the central question regarding the U.S. attorney firings from whether the attorneys were fired for "political reasons" to whether they were fired for "improper reasons." Only two of us are lawyers, but all of us are parents, and we recognize this as Gonzales playing the toddler who thinks he can't be seen because he's covering his eyes. Denying the U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons has become a nearly impossible position to defend. Sixty-seven percent of the public believes the firings were politically motivated in part because the Justice Department and the administration have been serially incapable of presenting plausible, substantive reasons for the firings, or are explaining away the signs that political considerations were involved.

Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican member of the judiciary committee, called Gonzales on his sad letter Sunday on This Week With George Stephanopoulos: "When he has a full column in the Washington Post, I think he would have been better advised if he would have dealt with some facts." Ouch.

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The best that may be said for Gonzales is at least he didn't try to get his girlfriend a government job, à la Paul Wolfowitz. However the attorney general elects to defend himself against his prior false statements and the contradictions raised by his former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, or to explain the role of the White House in the firings, he still has a "steep hill to climb," as Specter put it, to prove that he's in any way competent to lead DoJ. If his actions weren't "improper," they were clueless or confused, a point that comes across in his op-ed—like Schrödinger's cat, he presents himself as simultaneously in charge and not in charge at all: "My decision some months ago to privately seek the resignations of a small number of U.S. attorneys has erupted into a public firestorm," nestled in next to, "to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."

In other bad news for Gonzales, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) that his deputy Paul McNulty may be on his way out. Time reports that a group of conservatives, including a former senior official in the Reagan Justice Department, has written a letter to the president saying Gonzales should be fired, reminding us yet again that unlike previous political fights, the Gonzales one has open opposition from conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Sen. John Sununu, and the editors of the National Review—and a lot of silence with no real public defenders. Gonzales says he's looking forward to testifying. Add that to the list of things he can help explain to us tomorrow.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

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