Gone Gone Gone, He's Been Gonzo Long
Alberto Gonzales resigns. Finally.
Posted Monday, Aug. 27, 2007, at 11:27 AM
Today's chance of a Gonzales departure: 100 percent
(Previously: zero percent)
It's pretty much a given that folks in the Bush administration tend to stay on far longer than they ought to, regardless of the damage they do to their offices, staffs, or reputations. And so the interesting question about Alberto Gonzales' resignation becomes: Why now? Why did he wait so obscenely long to step down, and yet not a moment longer? Certainly he gave no inkling to his thinking at his press conference this morning. But we at the Gonzo-Meter have our theories, only one of which is utterly self-involved.
1)It's all about us. There we were, for months on end, predicting the attorney general's imminent demise. Every day he stayed in office was another day when we had to explain why we were the ones with egg on our faces. As Gonzales suffered through furious bipartisan attacks, his own rank missteps, and the unraveling of his department, it seemed as if his function was simply to take the abuse. We determined early and often that he was the ultimate Bush administration punching bag. And that made us the suckers. So finally, in the midst of the pounding, we retired the Gonzo-Meter with a rueful sigh. Gonzales stayed on two more months just to continue to prove us wrong. Even now, in bringing the Gonzo-Meter back, we're proven fatally wrong again—because we'd given up. Good Lord, we now have to renounce our own failure. The man is a tactical genius.
2)It's all about Congress. Gonzales last testified before the Senate judiciary committee more than a month ago, on July 24. Afterward, he faced yet another barrage of criticism, this time for his careful parsing of the word other, as in, when he appeared to previously tell Congress that there had been no internal dissent about the National Security Agency's warrantless-wiretapping effort called the Terrorist Surveillance Program, he was actually talking about "other" surveillance activity. But did Gonzales cave in the face of those attacks? No! He stood strong, with the president's apparent full support. Now, in the doldrums of late August, his resignation is nicely separated from the charge that he's taking a hike because he lied. He can say he has simply served his president long enough and has joined the march out of Washington of other long-serving administration officials. And the administration can finally acknowledge that Gonzales has become a "distraction" for the DoJ while continuing to insist on his "unfair treatment."
3)It's all about Karl Rove. Rove, of course, is chief among the recently announced departures. And it now dawns on us that with his decision to leave went our pet theory for why the administration had been insisting that Gonzales stay. Back in April, we approved of Newsweek's explanation that Bush thinks "a Gonzales resignation would embolden the Dems to go after other targets—like Karl Rove." In other words, Gonzales stayed to provide a distraction from the real story—Rove's wrongdoings—by stumbling and bumbling for the camera. Now with Rove gone, Gonzales has perhaps outlived his usefulness. With nobody to cover for, he's expendable. Which means that it's time to go. Gonzales has always put politics above the law. It would hardly be a surprise if his resignation were of a piece with that.
4) It's all about the Justice Department. Set aside the politics for a moment. Perhaps it simply became impossible for the Gonzales—the great delegator—to delegate anymore. Yes, there's still someone manning the phones at Justice, but the place is leaking lawyers like a busted toilet. In the last few weeks alone, we've witnessed the departure of Wan J. Kim, head of the civil rights division, and former voting rights section chief Bradley Schlozman. Add their names to a list of empty desks: Gonzales' own chief of staff, Kyle Sampson; DoJ's White House liaison, Monica Goodling; and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and his chief of staff, Michael Elston. In light of Gonzales' testimony alleging that these people did all of his work anyhow, without oversight or supervision, maybe he just got tired and decided to follow them out the door. Having to send your own faxes would get any attorney general down.
You can also look for reasons for the timing of the departure in the president's travel schedule. Today Bush visists New Mexico, bringing with him homestate Sen. Pete Domenici, who was central to the firing of former U.S. attorney David Iglesias, and who made an improper phone call to him in connection with an investigation. Then Bush heads to Seattle, the home of John McKay, another of the dearly departed. Or perhaps Gonzo waited until now to leave, when the rest saw it coming four and five months ago, because, as a colleague floated this morning, it opens up the chance for a recess appointment—one that the Senate is not asked to confirm. But it seems to us that there must be a line—albeit a fine one—between Bush administration hubris/cluelessness and utter insanity. Beyond that, what AG appointment could possibly be a more divisive choice than Gonzales? John Yoo does leap to mind.
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 email@example.com or on Facebook or Twitter.
John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Photograph of Alberto Gonzales on Slate's home page by Charles Dharapak/AP.