Today’s Chance of a Gonzales Departure: 75 percent
(Previously: 50 percent)
This was a bad weekend for Al Gonzales. Several pieces of really bad news push the meter to 75 today. At the end of last week, the attorney general looked like he just might stay in his job. But now he’s back at the center of Washington’s political firestorm over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The worst of it, courtesy of a Friday-night document dump: Gonzales was more involved in these dismissals than he has suggested. On March 13, he said that he ”was not involved in any discussions about what was going on,” but now it turns out he attended a meeting about the plan and signed off on it. Either he was more involved in this matter than he has admitted, or he is not paying attention at meetings. He now faces a broader question, too: whether he knowingly allowed the Justice Department to become a White House political tool or did nothing while it drifted in that direction.
These new disclosures about Gonzales’ spotty memory caused Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel, Lindsay Graham, and Arlen Specter to sharply challenge his honesty on the weekend talk shows. And while the list of those calling for his ouster increases, there aren’t any members of the GOP rushing to praise him and plead for him to keep doing the crackerjack job he’s been doing so far.
And the Washington Post observes yet another creature scurrying away from the sinking ship. Monica Goodling, a Gonzales senior counselor who’d worked closely with Kyle Sampson on the U.S. attorney firings, took an “indefinite personal leave from her job on Monday.”
Meanwhile, the fired U.S. attorneys are continuing their own media tour, explaining how their firings were politically motivated and parceling out new details about the political pressure they faced with almost with every news cycle. Former Washington state attorney John McKay said yesterday on Meet the Press that former White House counsel Harriet Miers asked him why Republican Party loyalists were angry with him. He took the question to be explicit political payback for not following through on a case that could have undermined a Democratic victory in a close gubernatorial race.
Gonzales has to be thinking about what his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, plans to say on Thursday, when he’s scheduled to testify before Congress. The options appear to be limited to “I was out of control” or “My boss is untruthful.” Strategy question: Would it be better for the administration for Gonzales to resign early this week, in hopes of giving the Democrats a big fish so they don’t go after a bigger one (Karl Rove), or to bow out on Friday as damage control after Sampson talks? Bob Novak reminds us that President Bush won’t fire his attorney general—it will be up to Gonzales to take himself out.
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