A delay, a game and a scary idea

Orrin Hatch for attorney general?

Published April 2, 2007 2:02PM (EDT)

From the "Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse" Department, Sen. Patrick Leahy says "the rumor on the Hill" last week was that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was "actively running" for the job as Alberto Gonzales' replacement.

Of course, Hatch couldn't replace Gonzales unless Gonzales leaves first, and Hatch doesn't seem too interested in making that happen. Here's how he tried to explain away Gonzales' role in the U.S. attorney purge on "Meet the Press" Sunday:

"You know, I don't think you can have these high positions without having somebody nitpicking at you all the time and without finding fault. And, yes, this has been badly handled. But it was badly handled by people who, by, I would say, not by Justice -- by Judge Gonzales, but by others in, in the Justice Department ... All I can say is this, Alberto Gonzales, you know, he's the first Hispanic-American ever put in this high position. He is an honest man. My experience with him has been extensive. I have never seen him prevaricate, I have never seen him do anything that was wrong. In this particular case, he misstated, there's no question about it. He was inaccurate ... I think he'll be the first to tell you that. But you can interpret things various ways, and I would wait until he testifies. He'll have to answer some of these questions. And let's give the man a fair -- at least some fairness, a fair chance to be able to explain why this happened under his watch and he was not totally prepared to, to handle all the problems that came up."

Gonzales is scheduled to answer questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee -- the committee Leahy chairs and on which Hatch sits -- on April 17. Although the White House has suggested that it's unhappy that Gonzales is waiting so long to testify, the Politico's Mike Allen says that the administration didn't do anything to move up the hearing date until this weekend, when -- knowing that the Senate was out of session for spring break this week -- White House counselor Dan Bartlett started suggesting publicly that if the Democrats were serious about getting to the bottom of the purge scandal quickly, they'd let Gonzales testify ... this week.

By Tim Grieve

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

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Patrick J. Leahy D-vt.