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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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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."

• 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."

By Paul Kane  |  April 20, 2007; 11:37 PM ET
Categories:  Hearing Watch , Senate  
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After Thursday's hearing, I think there is little question that Gonzales will be gone soon enough. Bush has no political cover to keep him. If he wants an even halfway effective AG, Gonzales has got to go. The most telling comment goes to Coburn. "You fired these people for mismanagement, bad leadership and incompetence. Why shouldn't we apply the same standard to you?" Three weeks of preparation for these hearings and the AG apparently didn't see this question coming. Pathetic.

So the real question is who will replace him. How about Fred Thompson?

Posted by: Anon | April 22, 2007 1:28 AM | Report abuse

Congress can subpoena Miers, Rove, Cheney, Bush, anyone it wants. They may or may not come. If they DO appear, they will all do the Lethe Dance. ` I do not recall that.` This tactic works really well. In a sense, Gonzales did a very good job. He withstood the heat and TOLD THEM ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Not one thing. That is what he was supposed to do. That is what he practiced doing for 3 weeks. Take the heat, say nothing. What is why Bush was delighted with his performance. He didn`t roll on anyone. He gave away no secrets. He did not lay it at Rove`s door. The `I don`t recall` tactic is very difficult to counter. How do you prove that someone DOES recall? Sure, it makes him look like a moron. But can they charge him with perjury? If they could charge him with perjury and he is convicted by a DC US Attorney, who is a loyal Bushie BTW, he would lose his license to practice law. Then he would no longer be qualified [ahem] to be AG. But that seems a long row to hoe. He will NEVER roll on Bush. Never.

Posted by: PJWhite | April 22, 2007 1:41 AM | Report abuse

Why should Bush fire Gonzales? Bush isn't going to campaign for election again. Bush doesn't care about the competence of any federal government employees - only their loyalty to himself. How long did he keep Rumsfeld around after everybody but Bushies lost confidence in him? The only way Gonzales is leaving is if the Senate decides to impeach him, IMO.

Posted by: Linda Braun | April 22, 2007 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Criminals of the world take note: the top law-enforcement officer in the US is a moron. Heckuva job, fredo.
If only the commitee could have water-boarded him.

Posted by: Patrick Huss | April 22, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

If the President had an education in the law the AG would be gone. I can't imagine any lawyer who has ever cross-examined a witness believing anything that comes from the AG's mouth.

I am particularly curious to know how AUSAs around the country can reconcile their courtroom experience with evasive witnesses with their conclusions about Gonzales's testimony. They must have come to conclsuions about his intelligence and candor. Do they believe he was truthful? Do they believe he's that forgetful? Do they believe his rational for the removals?

What faith or trust can they have in him?

Posted by: JM Parras | April 22, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Gonzales is now toast, but so what? Bush still likes him, and it is now all too obvious that Bush likes Gonzales because Gonzales poses no intellectual threat. Not only is Gonzales toast, but so is his Justice Department, as it slowly sags and crubles under continued absentee landlord management.

Posted by: J. Yoo | April 22, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

One minor quibble of fact - Rep. Canon (R-Utah) is now ranking member of the subcommittee that Sanchez now chairs. He may be 'former chair'. When R were Majority.

Posted by: Blank | April 23, 2007 12:55 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps some time at Guantanomo, a place (and methods) he sanctions, would help Alberto regain some memory and confess to attacks on the US Constitution.

Posted by: sick of authoritarians | April 23, 2007 4:48 AM | Report abuse

Where did the list of 7 names come from? After all these public and private hearings,thousands of e-mails,nobody,not even Leahy or Spector knows who made up the list.

Posted by: Mark | April 23, 2007 7:45 AM | Report abuse


As the DOJ and WH work to collect YOUR library records, telephone records, and traveling routines; as they work to extract information by all means, short of organ failure; they also carelessly, if not intentionally lose THEIR records, cover THEIR tracks, forget THEIR actions and protect themselves from the torture of public hearings and oaths to be truthful.

This WH and DOJ is intimately aware of the importance of knowledge -- protecting it and extracting it. On the one hand, they claims to seek it from US to protect US, and on the other hand, they hide it from US to protect THEM.

Posted by: JM Parras | April 23, 2007 8:13 AM | Report abuse

The extension of the WH political operation to the Dept of Justice was predicted with the Gonzales appointment. Its the best demonstrable proof that WMD has been found - in the Dept of Justice that is.

Posted by: tigman2 | April 23, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The Gonzales hearing and testimony made at least one thing clear: the President and his own party, in the form of elected members of Congress, are deeply at odds. I took Coburn's comments to mean nothing more than: "Mr. President, remove this Attorney General so that in the summer of 2008, when we are campaigning, this will not be an issue upon which the Democrats can seize." Happily for Democrats, the President and his AG appear to want to tough it out.

Posted by: Christopher Cole | April 23, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

When one thinks back on some of the Attorney Generals this country has had, giants like Robert Kennedy and Griffin Bell, it just crystalizes how bad this AG really is. He never learned that he stopped being Bush's personal lawyer when he took his oath of office. Shame on him.

Posted by: and2rew | April 23, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

hard to imagine finding more scandal in this white house, but the latest IG report shows that FEMA squandered $3 billion katrina aid by awarding it to incompetent firms.

remember bush's push-back when people in LA complained that they still didn't have their homes back? he pointed his finger directly at the state & local government, saying, "it's not my fault! I sent you 3 billion dollars!" now we know where that $3B went - into his cronies' pockets (again).

Posted by: jolie | April 23, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

alfredogate is bigger than the firings. need to look under some more rocks: the chief of staff to sen. jeff sessions (r) inserted the 'interim appts' provision during house/senate conference on the patriot act renewal 'at the request of the justice dept'. betcha that trail leads thru monica goodling to karl rove. rove knew his chief of staff could never get confirmatiion as u.s.a. in arkansas. 'interim appts' solved that.

Posted by: andy marrin | April 23, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Since this administration believes that torture can get the truth out of someone determined to lie, would it not be appropriate to use some electrodes on the folks from the White House who come to testify? A few jolts, and there might be fewer 'I can't remember" replies.

Posted by: stitchwitch8 | April 23, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Would it be likely that the President doesn't want Gonzales gone because a new AG would be more likely to uncover, change or report some of the secrete and not so secrete programs that were approved by the AGs office (Gonzales)? Assuming of course that the new AG is somewhat independent.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

"Send them to Guantanamo!" I REALLY like that, send the subpeonas to White House staff with instructions to report to Guantanamo. That way those time tested interrogation techniques can be used to get the real answers!
Seriously though, could Bush speak like more of a phony?! Of course AG spoke honestly, he knew nothing because in the AG chair he's only one of many White House surrogates at the Dept of Justice. The WH doesn't have to seek his approval for anything unless they see fit.

Posted by: tigman2 | April 23, 2007 8:31 PM | Report abuse

If the Senate rolls over on this, then we desever everything that happens to us in this country. This man should be disenfranchised from public service FOREVER! Where are the subpoena's for Rove and Miers? When will the missing emails be produced? How can one arm of government squash the other with impunity? Where are the checks and balances?

How can this Administration get away with this? Somehow these people should be held accountable....REAL ACCOUNTABILITY!!!

We have a motive, we have the evil mastermind, we have probably cause....someone on capital hill needs to dig a little deeper...and someone on the inside needs to stick their neck out. This stinks to high heaven and everyone in the country knows it....

Posted by: Emanuel Volakis | April 23, 2007 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Everyone should check out this video by GOVGAP about DOJ memory failure:

Posted by: Ethan Olivia | April 24, 2007 8:59 AM | Report abuse

The only way to rid the country of Gonzo and Bush's rotten barrel of apples is to impeach him & Cheney concurrently. They have transformed the GOP into the ultimate organized crime family in which the U.S. Government's role is to increase business profits at any cost. Their over-riding principle is greed, and as God said, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, which Bush has proven repeatedly.

Posted by: Chuck | April 24, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Has Specter faced any questions about what on Earth he was thinking when his committee confirmed Albie as AG in the first place? There were plenty of people around then willing to point out that he was already a walking disaster - The Torture Papers, the human abattoir he ran in Texas, etc. The Senator has a right to be disappointed, disgusted, but not surprised - and he certainly cannot deny at least some culpability.

Posted by: WhatsItAllAboutAlbie? | April 24, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I am curious whether anyone has compiled and published online an exhaustive list of the 60+ facts or answers that Gonzales claims to have forgotten? If so, I would love to see it.

Posted by: Patrick henry | April 25, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Alberto who?

Posted by: Bill MacLeod | April 25, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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