No reprieve for Alberto Gonzales

A two-day testimony delay won't help the attorney general, who says "to my knowledge" he didn't target U.S. attorneys for replacement. But how much doesn't he know? Maybe he should talk to Scooter Libby?

Published April 16, 2007 11:15PM (EDT)

My blogging today got delayed by the Virginia Tech tragedy, and coincidentally, so will Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' Senate testimony, which was postponed from tomorrow to Thursday. At first I thought the delay might help Gonzales. Maybe senators would forget about the lame written statement of his testimony he released Sunday, in which he insisted he couldn't recall anything about the most relevant decisions in the U.S. attorneys scandal -- but he knew that he hadn't made decisions about who should resign! Well, at least he thought he knew that. Even what should have been a flat-out statement of truth had a qualifier: "To my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign." Huh? Remember, that statement was carefully vetted and released because administration flacks thought it would help Gonzales' case. Instead, it's likely to go down in history as one of the worst examples of official CYA in history.

Clearly, nothing -- no written statement, and no delay of testimony -- can help Gonzales. ABC News reported a few hours ago that his statement is contradicted by e-mail released by the Justice Department, which showed the attorney general himself was gunning for California's Carol Lam months before she was fired. I used to think Gonzales was just an incompetent fall guy for a plot that emanated from Karl Rove's political operation, but it's starting to seem that he's part incompetent fall guy (because he clearly wasn't the mastermind of the whole operation) and part co-conspirator. I'm looking forward to his testimony Thursday bringing out both roles.

In blending the roles of fall guy and co-conspirator, he reminds me of Scooter Libby, who came to seem a bit tragic during his trial for perjury in the Valerie Plame case. Clearly Libby earned his conviction for his full-throated involvement in the plot to smear former Ambassador Joe Wilson by spreading the lie that his Niger trip was arranged by his CIA wife. But I was also softened a bit by defense attorney Ted Wells' claim that Libby was the administration's fall guy, as well as by Nick Bromell's memories of his awkward prep-school chum published here in Salon. I felt a little sorry for Libby, the good soldier showing up in court every day, smiling for the cameras and helping carry evidence inside; whose smile hasn't been seen since his conviction.

Something else not seen since Libby's conviction: Vice President Dick Cheney's phone number in his caller ID. I thought Cheney's admission that he hadn't called his former chief of staff even once since his conviction was the most telling revelation to come out of the Sunday chat shows. Even CBS's Bob Schieffer, a veteran of D.C. treachery, seemed shocked by Cheney's coldness. If I were Gonzales, famously nicknamed Fredo by the president, I'd be thinking a lot about the fate of Libby (and the ill-starred Fredo from "The Godfather," for that matter), as I prepared for my testimony on Thursday.

By Joan Walsh

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