The AG Hearing: A Post Mortem
As we consider the events of the past week, Capitol Briefing is still reeling from the miracle that occurred at precisely 4:34 p.m. Thursday: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) had run out of things to say.
Yes, Schumer -- who's both respected and reviled for his stamina in front of a TV camera -- had no questions left for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"I don't see any point in another round of questions," Schumer told the attorney general, who was giving testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee's marathon hearing on the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys.
Fourteen minutes later, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, closed the hearing with a bang of his gavel. Just three of the 19 committee members remained in the room -- Leahy, Schumer and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), none of whom could remotely be seen as a Gonzales defender.
The few protestors who were still there -- after heckling Gonzales throughout the hearing without being removed by the Democratic-run panel -- broke into a classic sports anthem usually sung by the fans of victorious teams:
"Na-na-nah-na, na-na-nah-na, Gonzales, goodbye."
However, after all the reporting about how bad things went for Gonzales (including by yours truly here at Capitol Briefing), after all the talk on cable shows about how badly things went (including by yours truly) -- after all that, Alberto Gonzales is still attorney general of the United States. And there's no telling when or if a resignation is coming.
In the meantime, let's recap the highlights and lowlights of the hearing.
â€¢ Most telling sign of how things went: The final half-dozen sessions of questions and comments Gonzales faced came from hostile senators -- Leahy, Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Schumer, Specter and then Leahy again. By 3:30 pm., Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) finished his questions and exited the hearing. Hatch was the only Republican who actively defended Gonzales, but for the final 75 minutes or so of the hearing it was just Specter and Democrats saying negative things about the nation's top law enforcement official.
â€¢ Most overlooked questioning: Whitehouse's late afternoon questions about Gonzales's decision to call for an internal investigation into how the firings were handled, an independent probe run jointly by Justice's Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility. Whitehouse, one of two former U.S. attorneys on the committee, noted that OPR investigations are usually done privately and never released to the public, while inspector general investigations are released. So Whitehouse asked if this internal investigation would become public and Gonzales didn't know: "I am recused from the oversight of these two investigations. And so, as a technical matter, I'm not sure that's going to be a decision for me to make," he replied.
â€¢ How many "can't recalls"?: 64 versus 74, which one was right? According to the Washington Post's sketch columnist extraordinaire, Dana Milbank, Gonzales said "I don't recall" and its variants ("I have no recollection," "I have no memory") 64 times. Milbank is a hard-working columnist who sat through all 11 hours of testimony in the past three weeks from Gonzales and his former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. He knows his stuff. But former Marine Adam Kokesh, who was based in Fallujah and is now an anti-war activist, kept his own count and came up with 74 "I don't recalls" (or some such variation). The difference doesn't really make a difference, the point's still the same, but Capitol Briefing welcomes readers to scour the hearing transcript and do their own counts.
â€¢ Biggest momentum changing event: The early exchange between Gonzales -- "I prepare for every hearing" -- and Specter: "were you prepared for that press conference?" Before that, the attorney general wasn't doing poorly, his opening statement contained some contrition and Leahy's questioning drew out some small facts but nothing bad had happened. Then Specter got into a bitter spat with Gonzales when the attorney general interrupted him and things never recovered.
â€¢ Missing in action: Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del). The presidential candidate was on hand at one point early, but never stuck around long enough to ask the attorney general any questions.
â€¢ Oddest/funniest defense of Gonzales so far: From Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee overseeing a parallel probe of the U.S. attorney firings: "The Attorney General acquitted himself well while he jumped through the hoops he was asked to jump through. Short of asking him to stand on one foot and sing the Star Spangled Banner, I don't know what else the Democrats will require in their quest to create a scandal where none exists."
â€¢ The single quote that may indirectly sum up where this is headed: From Gonzales, while ostensibly speaking about how the U.S. attorney firings didn't disrupt the prosecution of cases in those respective districts. The comment may actually tell us about the future of the Justice Department and Gonzales: "The institution is built to withstand change in leadership positions."
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