Gonzales and the fallout from Jim Comey's Senate testimony.

Down and on the way out.
May 17 2007 5:29 PM

Gonzo-Meter

The Comey fallout.

Today's chance of a Gonzales departure: 57 percent

(Previously:  50 percent)

The Gonzo-Meter

The Justice Department is blowing up. Or in any event, it should be.

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Gonzales' folly is back on the front pages, in the form of Jim Comey's amazing Senate testimony about Al's 2004 race to the hospital bed of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, whom he and former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card tried to railroad into signing a reauthorization for the National Security Agency surveillance program, even though Ashcroft and Comey had decided it was illegal. Whew. Bush, in the wake of Comey's revelation, is refusing to say whether he was the one who sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is predicting Gonzales' demise—not calling for it, but saying it's gonna happen. And the Senate Democrats are (finally) planning a no-confidence vote on the attorney general.

In Bush logic, this may well get Gonzales a national medal or an airport in his name. He's such a patient whipping boy—much better than Karl Rove would ever be. And here's another smart rationale to explain why Gonzales stays, from reader Todd Strickland of Lakewood, Colo.: As long as the president sticks with Gonzales, "he gives vulnerable Republicans (especially in the Senate) the opportunity to create some distance between themselves and an increasingly unpopular President on an issue that is not (quite) the war." On Thursday, Minnesota's Norm Coleman joined the list of Republicans who are asking Gonzales to step down. Maybe the administration planned all the U.S. attorney firings and consequent misfirings just to give the swing-district faithful a club with which to bash Bush over the head.

At this point, there's every reason to believe that Gonzales will never, ever leave office. When we kicked off our Gonzo-meter back on March 20, it seemed reasonable to assume that the attorney general had only a 45 percent chance of making it through the afternoon. If you look at the string of Gonzo-meter readings from that first week—and multiply out the probabilities—we guessed there was only a 6 percent chance he would last through Friday. Yet, somehow, he survived. In fact, if you take all our predictions from the past two months, the chances that Gonzales would have managed to avoid early retirement are on the order of one in a quintillion (1.59 × 10-18).

But we are undaunted, sort of. And so we inch up the Gonzo-meter, just a tad. If nothing else, we owe it to Jim Comey. Plus, we want to send an encouraging signal to Monica Goodling, who gets her day at the Senate next Wednesday. Monica, you're being blamed for some of the most dastardly doings at DoJ—the allegation that career attorneys (as opposed to political appointees) were illegally hired and fired based on their political-party affiliations. Did you really dream up the whole thing yourself? Did you really freak out about a government-funded public service announcement that played rap music to talk teenagers out of committing gun crimes? And don't you have something—lots!—to tell us about the U.S. attorney firings that we want to hear? We're all ears.

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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