Going, going, Gonzo-Meter.
Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2007, at 5:09 PM
It looks like yet another bad day for the embattled attorney general. While Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., may not be quite right in asserting that the Senate's failed no-confidence vote on Monday was in fact a no-confidence vote anyhow, today's New York Times is right to point out that Gonzales has no supporters in the Senate, either. The editorial pages have not been kind. Conservative critics can't quite get past the fact that Bush is hanging on to Gonzales while letting Scooter Libby twist in the wind. It is just about universally agreed upon that Gonzales will go down in history as the attorney general who helped the president: 1) torture, 2) wreak havoc on civil liberties, 3) fire U.S. attorneys who didn't prosecute along preferred political lines, 4) demoralize the Department of Justice, 5) worsen Bush's already dismal relationship with Congress, and 6) relentlessly hector a man in the intensive care unit.
Not much good is happening inside the Justice Department, either. Monday's Washington Post revealed that, thanks to Gonzales and Co., a shocking number of the nation's newest immigration judges are a bunch of GOP hacks. Yesterday, Bradley Schlozman, the former U.S. attorney for Kansas City who brought voter-fraud indictments against a liberal group just four days before the November 2006 election, in violation of department policy, wrote to Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., to "clarify" that when he testified 10 times last week that he had been "directed" to bring such indictments by the Election Crimes Branch of the DoJ's Public Integrity Section, he really meant that in fact he had never been directed to do so at all. Every single time he is asked about the U.S. attorney purge, Gonzales vows that he is staying on for the children. He did so again yesterday. One of the ways we know the AG really, really likes children is that he let them take over the running of the Justice Department.
Yet more bad news: The U.S. attorneys scandal is beginning to focus attention on something even bigger than the AG's incompetence: The White House. Yesterday's document dump highlighted the extent to which Harriet Miers and Karl Rove were involved in the earliest efforts to defuse the firings through sheer spin power. Not surprisingly, former White House counsel Miers and Sara Taylor, former Rove political director, just got subpoenaed in the effort to unearth why it was that the White House cared so darn much about a handful of federal prosecutors. One of the main reasons for the president to keep Gonzo was to use him as a human shield to absorb flak aimed at the White House. The shield is no longer working.
In all, another bad, bad day for the AG.
And so we are taking the Gonzo-Meter down to zero.
When we first launched this enterprise, we truly believed that the sun rose in the east and gravity worked. We were wrong. As we have increasingly observed, most notably on the days the AG testified before Congress, some mystical alchemy provides that the worse he does, the better his chances become of remaining in office. At this point, just about nothing Gonzales does could cause the president to fire him. That will happen only if and when the president can make it look like he is not buckling under pressure. So we drop the Gonzo-Meter to zero, in the perverse hope that Bush might start to believe that ditching his AG is his own idea, not ours.
Barring that miracle, this is our last entry in the Gonzo-Meter. We've no doubt the scandal will only blossom and grow, and we'll keep watching it and reporting on it. But the laws of physics demand that we admit defeat. If we didn't, we would ourselves become little Alberto Gonzaleses—denying the bracing truth of the world in which we live. Instead, the three of us will promptly begin drinking at our desks, hitting on our summer interns, and setting grease fires in the office kitchen. The Gonzo-Meter was a bust, but we want to really test that we've got job security like he's got.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.
John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his series on the presidency and his series on risk. Follow him on Twitter.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.