March 19, 2007

Gonzales Must Stay

Hatched by Dafydd

Once again, the Politico is quoting a raft of anonymous "mentioners," as Reagan used to put it -- "party sources," "administration officials," and "a well-connected Republican Senate aide" -- to flog the line that President Bush is about to precipitate a Saturday-night massacre at the Department of Justice, where the top two officials, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, will resign or be fired.

Why? In order to placate the "conservatives," who are supposedly lining up with the Democrats to demand the scalps of Gonzales and McNulty. Of course, I haven't heard any conservatives saying so; but perhaps they're "mentioning" it in private -- to the elite media. (Or in this case, to the not-quite-so-elite upstart Politico.)

Chief Political Writer Mike Allen -- formerly of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine -- paints a bleak picture of the complete collapse of the Bush administration's Department of Justice, followed by the imminent implosion of the administration itself:

Republican sources also disclosed that it is now a virtual certainty that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, whose incomplete and inaccurate congressional testimony about the prosecutors helped precipitate the crisis, will also resign shortly. Officials were debating whether Gonzales and McNulty should depart at the same time or whether McNulty should go a day or two after Gonzales....

In a sign of Republican despair, GOP political strategists on Capitol Hill said that it is too late for Gonzales' departure to head off a full-scale Democratic investigation into the motives and timing behind the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

"Democrats smell blood in the water, and (Gonzales') resignation won't stop them," said a well-connected Republican Senate aide. "And on our side, no one's going to defend him. All we can do is warn Democrats against overreaching."

A main reason Gonzales is finding few friends even among Republicans is that he has long been regarded with suspicion by conservatives who have questioned his ideological purity.

Forgive me if I think Mr. Allen should try breathing into a paper sack for a while until he stops hyperventilating. It's hard to imagine a stupider response to the fired-attorneys non-scandal than to sack Gonzales, sack McNulty -- and then to nominate a new AG and DAG who would be "movement conservatives."

Let's engage in a little Politics 101, a new category I just added. What would actually happen in real life if Bush took the Democrats' advice?

  1. He fires Gonzales and McNulty;
  2. Regardless of whether they depart arm in arm, or if McNulty sneakily waits a few minutes before leaving, the net effect is the same: There would be two slots to fill at Justice, each requiring Senate confirmation;
  3. Bush nominates a "movement conservative" to replace Gonzales;
  4. Senate Democrats reject his nominee in committee;
  5. Bush nominates another, who is also rejected;

At this point, the path bifurcates, as the president has two possible options; and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%) and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT, 95%), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, have an obvious response to each choice.

I. Assume President Bush responds to the rejections by nominating a "moderate" (that is, liberal) Republican, someone in the mold of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME, 36%) or Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

  1. Leahy and Reid congratulate the president on truly "uniting the country" with his nomination. The nominee sails through committee and is strongly confirmed in the Senate by a "bipartisan" vote -- getting far more Democratic than Republican votes.
  2. In fact, a solid majority of Republican senators votes to reject, but they're overwhelmed by the Democrats plus the liberal to moderate Republicans. This cripples Bush in the Senate and shatters the recent Republican solidarity that has blocked various Democrat surrender bills.
  3. The new attorney general becomes as anti-administration as the State Department under Colin Powell or the CIA from January 20th, 2001;
  4. Bush spends the next two years in utter misery and isolation. Everything he has done to fight terrorism, on both the foreign and domestic sides, from the Patriot Act to immigration prosecutions, is undone. He leaves office as the most unsuccessful president since Jimmy Carter.
  5. Worse, Bush leaves a weaker America that has been defeated, humiliated, and humbled. Global jihadism is triumphant. Al Gore or Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-Carpet Bag, 95%) is elected president, and things go from worse to worst. It's the end of the world as we know it, and the Democrats feel fine.

II. Assume instead that Bush refuses to nominate a "uniter" (that is, a RINO); he stands firm, nominating movement conservatives over and over:

  1. Every nominee is rejected in committee;
  2. The Republicans, who hoped that the American people would punish the Democrats for "overreaching," instead turn against the president, blaming him for nominating "ideologues" and for being stubborn;
  3. This perception is encouraged by the Democrats' propaganda efforts, which earn a grade of B-... in contrast to the administration's propaganda machine, which gets a D+. Bush loses the spin cycle (surprise, surprise);
  4. Because there is no political appointee in either of the top two slots at Justice, the department ends up being run by the career bureaucrats -- who are uniformly liberal. In fact, they're more liberal than any imaginable Republican Bush might nominate;
  5. See numbers 8 to 10 in the previous scenario.

Note that the complete, catastrophic concatenation of calamities begins with number 1: Bush firing Gonzales and McNulty. In fact, it doesn't even depend much upon firing McNulty, except insofar as there would be someone reasonably conservative running Justice during the confirmation comedy.

However, McNulty, being only the "acting comandante," would not have the power over the bureaucracy of the actual Attorney General; and the nomenklatura would eat him alive. We would more or less be back to bifurcation II.

Therefore, if Bush wants to retain any possibility of achievement in his last two years -- or even of staving off the slavering hordes of Democrats who desperately want to undo the last six years -- then he must not fire Alberto Gonzales in the first place.

Nothing good can come of it. We won't get another John Ashcroft; we'll get another Janet Reno. Or worse -- we might get another Ramsey Clark.

Gonzales is far from perfect; I consider him a thoroughly mediocre pick, though probably the most conservative AG Bush could have gotten confirmed following Ashcroft's resignation. But please understand: If Gonzales goes, any conceivable future scenario for de jure or de facto head of the Justice Department is much, much worse.

There is no upside to firing Gonzales. I do not believe that the president is so politically inept as to do so, nor that Congressional Republicans are so suicidal as to push it. But even if I'm wrong about Bush's fortitude on this issue, I'm afraid I won't be much wrong about the dreadful consequences.

For the sake of the nation, the party, and for Bush himself, Alberto Gonzales must stay.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 19, 2007, at the time of 5:13 PM

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» To the Wolves from The Crimson Blog
Sigh… The pseudo-scandal currently engulfing D.C. is one of moronic proportions. As I’m sure everyone is familiar with by now, the Justice Department fired 8 U.S. attorneys in December… That’s the story. Really that’s it Janet Reno and Clint... [Read More]

Tracked on March 19, 2007 8:13 PM

» Bush To Schumer....Get Bent! from Flopping Aces
Now I like this Bush! A defiant President Bush warned Democrats Tuesday to accept his offer to have top aides testify about the firings of federal prosecutors only privately and not under oath or risk a constitutional showdown from which... [Read More]

Tracked on March 20, 2007 6:03 PM

» What the Meaning of "Fizz" Is from Big Lizards
Now that's a scandal! I don't mean the firing of eight United States Attorneys who had agendas and priorities that differed from the president's; I mean the scandalous abuse of the English language by Senate Democrats, aided and abetted by... [Read More]

Tracked on March 24, 2007 6:11 AM


The following hissed in response by: Steve

There is one other alternative. Bush could wait until Congress goes on break (which I believe is soon). He could then fire Gonzales and McNulty, and put in two others who are more conservative as recess appointments, people who would actually try to fight crimes, like congressional corruption (Jefferson and Mollohan) and leaks in the intelligence services (get subpoenas issued to Eric Lichtblau and Dana Priest).

It's a good bet that whomever becomes the next President will replace all of the Bush people, so getting a new AG and Deputy AG could be done without the Senate.

The above hissed in response by: Steve [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2007 6:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

My sources are telling humble me that "it is a done deal". Gonzales will be gone by this Friday, and Al Franken will be his replacement. Randi Rhodes will probably replace McNulty if Markos Moulitsas Zúniga refuses the job offer.

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2007 6:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


A recess appointment runs into the same problem that having no AG would, or having McNulty try to serve if Gonzales were axed: no support within the bureaucracy.

Gonzales has at least been there for years; he has forged some relationships within the department. At this point, the only person who might be more effective is a very committed nominee who was known to be very close to the president -- but who is also confirmable by the Senate.

No such person exists (or if he did, we wouldn't like him; he would be much too liberal).

Hence, Gonzales must stay.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2007 6:56 PM

The following hissed in response by: Rovin

Let no man person ever accuse you of presenting the worst and the best case scenerios.

Why can't we just clone Reagan and his whole damn administration? Things would get done without the games.

The above hissed in response by: Rovin [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 19, 2007 9:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye


Today's Democrats would destroy Reagan. Remember Iran contra.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 20, 2007 3:15 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


Today’s news on this topic is all about how the Democratic leadership want Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to testify under oath before some committee or other. This of course falls under Congress’s “oversight” authority.

Question: Just where in the Constitution is Congress granted this power? When it comes to interaction with the Executive branch, Congressional powers are carefully enumerated -- sending approved bills to the President for signature, impeachment, advice and consent concerning Presidential appointments, etc. I don’t see “Congressional oversight” mentioned anywhere.

I suppose it’s just another erosion of executive power following Watergate.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 20, 2007 10:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


I posted the above before I had a chance to read your latest article, Imperial Congress Summons Its Subjects, in which you address the issue I raised.

Actually I composed the above several hours ago. I tried to post it several times, but I couldn't. Every time I tried, I could preview, but when I clicked on "post", I got an error message saying I hadn't logged in -- which, of course, was not true.

It looks like there was a considerable period of time when no one posted any comments. Maybe you had a temporary malfunction.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 20, 2007 10:34 PM

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