Accountability? Libby? Gonzales? Let me tell you about 9/11

The president changes the subject.

Published August 9, 2007 3:56PM (EDT)

At a White House press conference this morning, a reporter noted that George W. Bush hasn't done much to hold Iraqi leaders to their promises, that he commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby and that he's standing by embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"There have been a lot of questions about your commitment to accountability," the reporter said. "I wonder if you can give the American people some clear examples of how you've held people accountable during your presidency."

The president couldn't, or at least he didn't.

"Lewis Libby was held accountable, Bush said. "He was declared guilty by a jury. He paid a high price for it. Al Gonzales -- implicit in your question is that Al Gonzales did something wrong. I haven't seen Congress say he's done anything wrong. As a matter of fact, I believe we're watching a political exercise. I mean, this is a man who has testified. He sent thousands of, you know, papers up there. There's no proof of wrong. Why would I hold somebody accountable who's done nothing wrong?

"Frankly, I think that's a typical Washington, D.C., assumption -- not to be accusatory. I know that you're a kind, open-minded fellow, but you suggested holding the attorney general accountable for something he did wrong. And, as a matter of fact, I hope Congress would become more prone to delivering pieces of legislation that matter as opposed to being the investigative body."

The reporter tried again. "Given the decision to commute the sentence of Libby, given the performance of Iraqi leaders, is it fair for people to ask questions about your commitment to accountability?"

Bush didn't answer, again.

"I would hope people would say that I am deliberate in my decision making, I think about all aspects of the decisions I make, and I'm a fair person," he said. "And back to Iraq, it's no question they haven't made as much progress as I would have hoped. But I also recognize how difficult the task is. And I repeat to you -- the fundamental question is: Does it matter whether or not there is a self-governing entity that's an ally in the war on terror in Iraq? Does it matter? Does it matter to, you know, a guy living in Crawford, Texas? Does it matter to your children? As you know, from these press conferences, I have come to the conclusion that it does matter. And it does matter because enemies that would like to do harm to the American people would be emboldened by failure ...

"It matters if the United States does not believe in the universality of freedom. It matters to the security of people here at home if we don't work to change the conditions that caused 19 kids to be lured onto airplanes to come and murder our citizens ...

"And I recognize some don't view it as an ideological struggle, but I firmly believe it is an ideological struggle. And I believe it's a struggle between the forces of moderation and reasonableness and good and the forces of murder and intolerance. And what has made the stakes so high is that those forces of murder and intolerance have shown they have the capacity to murder innocent people in our own country. And so I put that in the context of accountability."

By Tim Grieve

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

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