Adam Ash

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

US Diary: another day, another fuckup from the Bush administration

Going, Going, Gone
The White House bungling of the U.S. attorney firings shows how a once-fearsome administration has become a second-rate paranoid operation.
By Terence Samuel/The American Prospect

The over-under on the Alberto Gonzales resignation is now a matter of days. But whatever it is, take the under. He's done. He may not make it through the weekend, as more damaging e-mails continue to emerge showing both the administration's arrogance in removing U.S. attorneys and its deceit in covering up its reasons for the firings.

The demise of Gonzales may signal the final unraveling of the Bush White House, because at the heart of this particular scandal are two commodities most prized by this administration: loyalty to the president and a ruthless expediency in the service of political goals. Together, these two have made the Bush White House both successful and fearsome.

But based on what we have seen so far, Gonzales' chief offenses may turn out to be these exact characteristics. He has been blindly, boundlessly loyal to President Bush and willing, maybe even eager, to employ Karl Rove's harsh political tactics in order to compel the same kind loyalty from people who work in the government -- in this case, United States district attorneys.

When those two principal features of the administration's political and policy playbook are discredited, they are going to have an even harder time governing than they do today. And the damage will not stop at Gonzales. The two people with the most to lose are Rove -- who may be soon staring down a congressional subpoena -- and the president, who may find that he has been ill-served by such unquestioning loyalists.

The official White House line is that Gonzales is staying, but no one believes that anymore. "The president has confidence in the attorney general," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Thursday. "He has made that clear both privately to the attorney general, and he made it clear yesterday in the press conference." What comes next, of course, is that the president will accept with great regret the resignation from Gonzales, who will offer it because he does not want to become a distraction from all the important work the administration still has ahead.

More ominous for the "loyal Bushies" is that they no longer seem capable of repelling attacks. The clumsy, heavy-handed way in which the offending U.S. attorneys were let go is a graphic reminder of how a White House once feared for its political cunning and media savvy has been reduced to a second-rate paranoid operation.

The fact that the Attorney General had to retract and correct statements he made to Congress is not the kind of thing we've come to expect from a Karl Rove operation. And the formerly formidable GOP fog machine that was once able to spin sludge into sugar was never able to get off the mat to defend Gonzales. Even on the Hill, the best that the Bush allies could do was caution against a rush to judgment .

"I'm not happy about the entire story. I'm still waiting to see all the facts," House Minority Leader John Boehner said, "And I think before people in Washington go running with a story, we ought to get all the facts on the table. And as the next few days, I expect those facts will show up and then we can make some determination."

Not your typical defiant defense of the White House that comes off the Hill. When Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is one of the administration's fiercest defenders, says that Gonzales is going to have to explain himself because he has cast a cloud over the Justice Department, there are very bad days ahead for Gonzales -- and, indeed, the entire Bush administration.

The big problem facing Gonzales, and the White House in general, is that with a Democratic majority wielding subpoena power, he and others are likely to be spending some time under oath. The rules for that kind of party are that you have to tell the truth, something which has not always been easy this administration.

"When an attorney general lies to a United States senator, I think it is time for that attorney general to go," Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor said Thursday. "He did not only lie to me as a person, but when he lied to me, he lied to the Senate and to the people I represent."

That complaint will begin to echo more loudly on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, since Republican senators enjoy the power to recommend U.S. attorneys, too. Which means the attorney general should start packing his bags.

(Terence Samuel is a political writer in Washington, D.C. His weekly TAP Online column appears on Fridays.)


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