The Gonzo-Meter

Even the president is backing away from Gonzales?

Today’s Chance of a Gonzales Departure: 86.5 percent

(Previously: 85 percent)

In the wake of the Kyle Attack, even President Bush’s cheerful enthusiasm for his attorney general may be waning. MSNBC reports that when Republicans in Congress asked Bush about Alberto Gonzales yesterday, “Bush did not defend his longtime friend.” Instead, the president told them what he has said in public: Gonzales needs to go to Capitol Hill to face the mistrust he has sown there.

The White House was also publicly terse during Sampson’s testimony. “I’m going to have to let the attorney general speak for himself,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. No more of last week’s “Al, Al, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can.” This sounds a lot more like, “Al, Al, walk the plank.”

The Justice Department didn’t do much better in its efforts to clear up discrepancies between Gonzales’ March 13 press conference assertions (when he said he was not involved in “any discussions” of the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys dismissed last year) and Sampson’s descriptions yesterday of repeatedly briefing the attorney general. What Gonzales really meant, as he said in an interview earlier this week, was that he “was never focused on specific concerns about United States attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign.”

The DoJ explanation continues: “Rather, as the Attorney General has already explained, his discussions with Mr. Sampson were focused on ensuring that appropriate people were aware of and involved in the process.” Oh, and also, “he approved the recommendations to seek the resignations of select U.S. Attorneys.” The last part matches what Sampson said. It all increasingly adds up to this: I said I had no idea what was going on, and he said I had no idea what was going on. And he was right. Not exactly a resounding reassurance, or display of bristling competence.

Gonzales is scheduled to testify on the Hill on April 17, after Congress comes back from the Easter recess. If he resigns before then, he might spare himself, or at least give his interrogators reason to go easier on him. If he doesn’t, he’s going to face three tough weeks of disclosures, staff backbiting, and late-night jokes. Plus, there’s no way much work is getting done over at DoJ, with Gonzales and his deputy, Paul McNulty, doing damage control 24/7. Given the department’s track record during this administration, that might not be so bad. But eventually the government has to function again. Al, we’re sorry, but when even the president won’t say you’re doing a “helluva job,” it’s time to bring in the grown-ups.