The teams line up.

Down and on the way out.
May 3 2007 5:56 PM

Gonzo-Meter

The Good Guys vs. the Hacks

Today's chance of a Gonzales departure: 77 percent
(Previously: 78 percent)

The Gonzo-Meter

If they were picking teams for anything—paintball, Pictionary, partisan politics, you name it—we think they'd look pretty much the way the teams are shaking out at the Justice Department in the U.S. attorneys melee.

At least to hear us in the media tell it, you have the Good Guys: a bunch of belt-and-suspenders, loyal, Republican, law-and-order guys on one side. And on the other side, you have the Hacks: a formerly all-powerful but increasingly ridiculous-looking team of dissemblers.

Even if you grant that the White House doesn't particularly care if the belt-and-suspenders crowd is grieving for the damage done to the Justice Department by Alberto Gonzales, you'd think they might care a little about how shameless they look in comparison. Come on Hacks! Let's see some De-fense!

Start with the Good Guys: They're led by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, whose testimony today before the House judiciary committee was as credible and straightforward as Gonzales' was weaselly and defensive. Comey had nothing to hide today (largely because he'd been totally sidelined in the early discussions of the U.S. attorneys plot and then exited the Justice Department). But he carved Gonzales' post-hoc assessments of the fired U.S. attorneys' flaws into tiny, little sushi-sized pieces, without ever breaking a sweat.

On his starting team are the ever-nobler Carol Lam, John McKay, Bud Cummins, David Iglesias, Daniel Bogden, and Paul Charlton, all fired prosecutors whose newly released written responses to the House judiciary committee read like a sonnet to prosecutorial good judgment, effectiveness, and independence and reveal their real chagrin at White House treatment that was shabby at best and blatantly threatening at worst.

Now have a look at the Hacks. It's not pretty. Monica Goodling suddenly faces the unsavory choice of either being granted immunity so she can rat out her bosses or being investigated for violating federal laws by only awarding prosecutor jobs to Republicans or Federalist Society members or her book club. As the judiciary committee subpoenas Karl Rove's hot hot hot e-mails, the White House continues to insist that a better, more reasonable alternative would be to let him chat with the committee in secret, off the record, perhaps over some Mochachinos at Starbucks. And Kyle Sampson, "the Aggregator," looks like he plain old lied when he claimed to be following DoJ orders. Clearly neither Comey nor Comey's successor, Paul McNulty, nor Gonzales ever gave him much of an order. And leading the Hacks, there is, of course, Gonzales himself, whose cries of "I don't recall" are so pitiably unbelievable that law professor Frank Bowman is calling for Congress to impeach him on the New York Times op-ed page.

We've said it before: None of this need mean Gonzales is shipping back to Texas. More likely, it means he's Krazy Glued to his desk. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo observes, better the devil you owe …

And so, we're taking the Gonzo-Meter down today, but only to 77 percent.

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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