Gonzales' fate and the new document dump

One report says the attorney general will survive. Another says the White House is looking for his replacement.

Published March 20, 2007 2:16AM (EDT)

As journalists, bloggers and members of Congress begin sorting through thousands of pages of e-mail messages released by the Justice Department tonight, the question without an answer remains the fate of Alberto Gonzales.

After White House Press Secretary Tony Snow offered what seemed like a lukewarm endorsement of the attorney general today, the Associated Press declared that Gonzales' "hold on his job" was growing "more uncertain."

Is that right? Who knows? A "senior Bushie" tells the New York Daily News that Gonzales will "make it through the ordeal" surrounding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. But The Politico's Mike Allen says that GOP officials, "operating at the behest of the White House," have already begun looking for Gonzales' successor. Among the names that could be on the short list: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, White House anti-terrorism coordinator Frances Townsend, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and former Solicitor General Ted Olson.

Why not Paul McNulty, the deputy attorney general? Allen says McNulty's "incomplete and inaccurate" testimony on the firings makes it a "virtual certainty" that he's going to resign, too.

Even if Gonzales manages to hold on -- and our money says he will unless Republicans in Congress begin to turn on him in big numbers -- he may find his power dramatically diminished. As the New York Times reports, the Senate is preparing to repeal a provision in the Patriot Act that allowed the attorney general to appoint interim replacement U.S. attorneys for indefinite periods of time without Senate approval.

The one bright spot for Gonzales? The documents released by the Justice Department tonight apparently don't include any email messages from the attorney general himself because he doesn't use email.

However, as U.S. News is reporting, the new documents may be plenty damaging anyway. Among them: A message from a Justice Department spokesman to McNulty in which the spokesman, who was traveling with Gonzales at the time, said that the attorney general was unhappy with McNulty for having told Congress that, as far as he knew, Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins was fired for no reason. "The email shows an internal rift between top leadership over how to portray the firings, and indeed the reasons for the firings," U.S. News' Chitra Ragavan reports. "Among the 2,000 pages, there were a handful of other documents that are causing concern at the Justice Department, sources said, because they 'may not put things in a great light' and could be seen as Justice officials' 'potentially misleading' Congress, sources said."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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