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Another rat leaves Bush administration

By Alan Maass | August 31, 2007 | Pages 1 and 7

ALBERTO GONZALES announced his resignation as attorney general after months of scandals, involving everything from his frenzied pursuit of Big Brother spy powers for the U.S. government, to the exposure of lies in his sworn testimony to Congress, to his role in firing federal prosecutors for nakedly political reasons.

His resignation has been expected for so long that Gonzales didn't even try to use the age-old Washington excuse of wanting to "spend more time with my family."

A belligerent George Bush--who insisted for months that Gonzales was doing a great job, and wouldn't be asked to quit--issued a statement blaming (who else?) the Democrats for forcing a good man out of office. "It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons," Bush sniffed from his vacation ranch in Texas.

Even fellow Republicans would use a different word to describe Gonzales than "honorable."

The last time Gonzales showed up to testify to Congress at the end of July, he was asked about his apparent attempt, while White House counsel, to strong-arm his predecessor as attorney general, John Ashcroft--who was lying in a hospital bed at the time, recovering from emergency surgery--to sign off on expanded spy powers for the government.

Gonzales' testimony was filled so many I-can't-recalls that Arlen Spector, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told him, "Your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable."

Gonzales rose to positions of power as George Bush's loyal servant. He was Bush's counsel when Bush was governor of Texas, helping to grease the wheels of the state's execution machine.

Though he was rewarded with a seat on the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales followed Bush to the White House to serve as his lawyer again. He defended the administration's stonewalling of all attempts to investigate the identities of members of a task force on energy policy led by Dick Cheney.

After the September 11 attacks, Gonzales helped fashion new repressive laws to give the government greater powers against its opponents. He helped come up with legal excuses for the torture of detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, and he provided arguments to justify military tribunals.

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DEMOCRATS, OF course, welcomed Gonzales' resignation and insisted that they had been suspicious of him all along.

Pointing out that he had voted against confirming Gonzales, Sen. Joe Biden said in a statement, "I expressed doubts then about his judgment in light of his track record and role as an architect of policies attempting to place the president above the law. My skepticism was confirmed by his conduct, and his failure to put protecting the American people over protecting the president."

Doubts? Skepticism? Democrats like Biden showed little of either when Gonzales sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearings in early 2005--even though they knew full well about Gonzales' role in justifying the torture of detainees in the "war on terror."

As for Biden, he asked a few pointed questions--then commented, "I love you, but you're not very candid so far." The chummy laughter among senators and the nominee showed better than anything else the high regard with which Democrats and Republicans held Gonzales. He won confirmation from the full Senate by a comfortable 60-36 margin.

Gonzales only really got into hot water after the Democrats won back control of Congress in November 2006. The scandals that suddenly began to plague him were the result of the administration's growing crisis--driven by the disastrous occupation of Iraq, not any effort by lawmakers of either party to hold the lawless attorney general to account.

Now--like Donald Rumsfeld, Harriet Miers and Karl Rove before him--Gonzales is unemployed, at least temporarily.

Democrats are promising to pressure the administration to nominate a new attorney general "who will put the rule of law above political considerations," in the words of Sen. Chuck Schumer--and the continuing plunge in Bush's popularity ratings shows the public disapproval of the right-wing ideologues that have run the White House for the last six-and-a-half years.

But the Bush administration's arrogant response to opposition in the past has been to plunge full steam ahead. And the Democrats' sad record--from funding for the Iraq war to the USA PATRIOT Act to domestic issues of all kinds--is of putting up a rhetorical show of opposition, before retreating and letting Bush get his way.

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