Specter: Gonzales is hurting Justice

Is Bush saying "screw you" by keeping his attorney general around?

Published April 23, 2007 1:21PM (EDT)

When Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, ranking Republican member Arlen Specter said that he'd refrain from making a recommendation -- one way or the other -- as to whether the attorney general should resign.

Given Gonzales' disastrous performance before the Senate, White House officials took Specter's semisilence as a positive. He says they shouldn't. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" over the weekend, Specter was asked whether he thought it would be bad for the Justice Department if Gonzales decided to remain attorney general. "Well, I think, no doubt, it is bad for the Department of Justice," he said. "It is harmful. There has been a very substantial decrease in morale. There's no doubt about that.

"The other 93 U.S. attorneys don't know who is up next," Specter continued." There is a suspicion of improper motivation -- no proof, but suspicion, and it's kindled every day. But I believe in the final analysis, there are two people involved in the decision, and that is the attorney general to make it himself, and, if he decides to stay on, for the president. I do not think that it is appropriate for me to call for his resignation. I don't challenge anybody else who wants to do it. But my own mindset is to leave it up to the attorney general and the president."

And what will they do? Gonzales attended the White House Correspondents' Association dinner over the weekend and told a reporter that he was enjoying his meal. A "White House advisor" tells Newsweek that Gonzales' resignation may ultimately be inevitable, but that this could also be a case where the president decides to say "screw you" to Congress -- possibly out of fear that throwing Gonzales to the wolves could embolden Congress to go after Karl Rove next.

The problem for Gonzales: It's almost impossible to find a Republican on Capitol Hill who would be sad to see him go. We say "almost" because there's always Orrin Hatch. And with him now is one of his state mates, Utah Republican Rep. Chris Cannon, who declared after Gonzales' testimony last week that the attorney general had "acquitted himself well while he jumped through the hoops he was asked to jump through." Cannon complained that Democrats have done everything "short of" asking Gonzales to "stand on one foot and sing the Star Spangled Banner." And it's a good thing, too: If the attorney general's testimony last week was any indication, there's no way in hell that he could remember all the words.

By Tim Grieve

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

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Arlen Specter D-pa. Department Of Justice