Gonzales: As it began, so it ended

The attorney general's flaws were obvious from the beginning. The Senate confirmed him anyway.

Published August 27, 2007 2:44PM (EDT)

Two and a half years ago, we sat in a Senate hearing room and watched the confirmation hearing for Alberto Gonzales. What was to come was already on full display.

The 2002 memo in which the soon-to-be attorney general called portions of the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete"? Gonzales disavowed it. The president's powers during wartime? Gonzales declined to discuss them. Asked whether he agreed with a narrow definition of "torture" set forth in a legal opinion from the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, Gonzales said it was his job as White House counsel to ask for the opinion, not to have one. Pressed on what his opinion would have been if he had to have one, Gonzales punted the question to the Department of Justice -- the agency he was seeking confirmation to run.

It went on like that for hours, and then Sen. Joe Biden finally gave voice to what a lot of us in the room were feeling: "We're looking for candor, old buddy," he told Gonzales. "We're looking for you, when we ask you a question, to give us an answer, which you haven't done yet. I love you, but you're not being very candid so far."

So far? It never got any better.

A year after Gonzales' confirmation hearing, it had become clear that he had misled the Senate Judiciary Committee about the president's warrantless wiretap program. Gonzales subsequently misled the Senate about the purpose of his 2004 visit to John Ashcroft's hospital room; lied to the American people about his involvement -- "not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" -- in the firing of a slew of U.S. attorneys last year; and then lied again when he claimed that he hadn't tried to synchronize stories about the firings with other Justice Department officials. Even after he submitted his resignation Friday, the attorney general apparently lied to his own spokesman about whether his departure was imminent.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is on CNN now, declaring today a "sad day" that has come about because of the "hyperpartisan atmosphere of Washington, D.C." By our account, the "sad day" came on Feb. 3, 2005, when the Senate confirmed Gonzales by a vote of 60 to 36, with six Democrats (Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor and Ken Salazar) joining Republicans in giving the president the attorney general whom he wanted. The sadder day still? When -- and at this late date, we won't say "if" -- U.S. senators vote to confirm another Bush nominee when the evidence before them shows that they shouldn't.

By Tim Grieve

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

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