Check out Doyle McManus’s article in the LA Times today about the risk Bush faces over the continued Congressional investigation into the US attorney firings: Gonzales’ plight puts Bush at risk. It’s fun mainly because of the large number of memorable quotes it contains.
“I want you to be clear here: Don’t go dropping it at the president’s door,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday when asked about Bush’s involvement.
I believe that’s what’s known in the trade as a “non-denial denial.” It musters the sense of outrage required to allow the faithful to sympathize with the unfairly maligned Bush (there are still Bush faithful, presumably), while not actually saying anything specific along the lines of “no, the president was not involved in discussions about whether to fire US attorneys for being unwilling to pervert the criminal justice system to benefit the Republican party.”
See, the problem for Tony Snow specifically, and for defenders of Bush generally, is that there are two separate stories they are trying to advance simultaneously, and the stories are mutually exclusive. On the one hand, they want to maintain that there was nothing wrong with Bush firing the eight US attorneys, because they “serve at the pleasure of the president,” so Bush has the authority to fire them at any time. While Gonzales and Bush have acknowledged that “mistakes were made,” they’ve tried to limit the applicability of those remarks to the misleading statements made by Gonzales in his sworn testimony before Congress. It wasn’t a mistake to fire the attorneys, this storyline goes; it was only a mistake for Gonzales to lie to Congress about the motivations for the firings afterward.
But the president’s supporters also want to make it seem like Bush wasn’t directly involved in the firings. They want to halt the spread of the scandal’s damage, so there’s an effort underway to build a cofferdam around the misdeeds, making them out to be all [former Gonzales Chief of Staff] Kyle Sampson’s fault. Or maybe, if they absolutely have to go that far, Alberto Gonzales’ and Harriet Miers’ fault. Or even, God forbid, Karl Rove’s fault. But absolutely not George Bush’s fault.
But that storyline conflicts with the first. If Bush wasn’t involved in the firings, then they don’t fall under the “serve at the pleasure of the president” language.
It’s all very vexing, I’m sure, for the people in the White House who want to make this story go away. And because those damn Democrats in Congress keep holding hearings, the darned reporters get to keep writing stories about it. Stories with fun quotes like these:
Gonzales and his aides initially told Congress that the prosecutors were fired because their performance was unsatisfactory. But documents released last week showed that officials also discussed whether the U.S. attorneys had been “loyal Bushies,” in the words of one Justice Department e-mail.
Loyalty over competence in the staffing decisions of the Bush administration — where have we heard about that before?
Early reports had indicated that the idea of the firings originated with Miers, but on Friday, Snow said that may not be the case. “At this juncture, people have hazy memories,” he said.
Oh, I’ll bet.
“This is one more chapter in the defense of Karl Rove,” said one leading GOP figure who insisted on anonymity because he was speaking ill of the president’s most powerful aide. “This isn’t accountability, it’s damage control, and it’s protection for Karl.”
But check out this fun quote:
“There’s no suggestion of illegality in anything [Rove] has done,” [former Reagan US attorney Joseph E.] DiGenova said. “He wasn’t the one making inaccurate representations on Capitol Hill. I would think that would trump any demand [from Congress] for testimony.”
Well, right. Karl wasn’t the one making inaccurate representations to Congress. Because Karl wasn’t the one talking to Congress. Now Congress is asking him for his version of events. If he goes before them and comes clean, and there’s no there there, great. Until he does that, though, claims that he’s above reproach because no one’s shown that he’s lied to Congress are kind of silly.
“The incompetence has been amazing,” DiGenova charged. “Managing crises, beginning with preventing crises, is what life in Washington is about…. But these guys didn’t have a plan ready to answer questions once the problem became public. They still don’t have their stories straight.
“There are too many Stepford husbands in this administration: young men who are perfectly coiffed and have great clothes, but very few of them have ever been in a courtroom,” he added.
Haha. “Stepford husbands.” It isn’t explicitly tied to Gonzales, but if there was ever an apt characterization of the guy, with his helmet hair and smarmy smile, and (especially) his slavish pursuit of the personal and political interests of George W. Bush, as distinct from the interests of the nation and the law that one would hope an attorney general would be giving his attention to, that’s it.