The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Glenn Greenwald - Alberto Gonzales testifies

Alberto Gonzales testifies

(updated below, post-hearing)

I will provide ongoing commentary to the Gonzales testimony here (assuming there are matters worth commenting upon). Feel free to use the comment section for ongoing discussion. The hearings can be watched here.

* * * * *

There is a pleasantly surprising and appropriately hostile tone to the beginning of this hearing, which I think is due to two factors --

(1) Gonzales showed up with the obvious intent of being combative towards (at least thus far) both Leahy and Specter, likely because he is confident that the President will not fire him no matter what the Senators think; and,

(2) all of the extremely evasive, nonresponsive, mantra-like testimonial tactics that Gonzales has been using for years with this Committee are not going to work today, as even the ultimate Committee Bush loyalist (this side of Orrin Hatch), Jeff Sessions, warned in advance.

* * * * *

Having watched this specific Committee rather carefully over the course of the last couple of years with regard to various executive power scandals, one important fact to keep in mind is that the particular Republicans on this Committee are among the most slavish Bush loyalists anywhere in the Congress. They have defended the most egregious abuses and have justified the most blatant falsehoods on every issue from warrantless surveillance to signing statements to war powers claims.

The reason some of them are being hostile to Gonzales here, and the reason some Congressional Republicans beyond this Committee have called for Gonzales' resignation, is not because they suddenly decided that it is important that the Justice Department act ethically or that lying to Congress is a bad thing. Instead, it is because they have long disliked Gonzales because they perceive that he has been insufficiently aggressive in enforcing immigration laws -- they see him as a symbol of all that they dislike in what they perceive to be the Bush administration's lax enforcement efforts. Some of them are dissatisfied because they perceive he has been insufficiently aggressive in enforcing obscenity laws.

Republican hostility towards Gonzales and even calls for his resignation are, in most (though not all) cases, motivated by pre-existing dissatisfaction that has nothing to do with the scandal in question. That is one of the ironies here -- that a Republican administration that never wanted aggressive enforcement of immigration laws (and therefore defended its U.S. attorneys from complaints voiced by Congressional Republicans about lax enforcement) is now attempting to pretend that it fired some of these U.S. attorneys because they did not enforce the immigration laws aggressively enough.

* * * * *

I fixed the C-SPAN link above. The front page will take you to the video.

For some reason, I have had technical difficulty watching the last hour or so. I will try to fix the problem for the afternoon session, but either way, both Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake as well as by Paul Kiel and others at TPM have excellent running commentary and, in the case of TPM, video clips as well.

* * * * *

I was able to watch the afternoon session only in isolated segments, so until I'm able to watch the entire session and/or read a transcript, I will leave the line-by-line dissection of Gonzales' testimony to others. But I did see enough of the testimony and read enough reactions to warrant the following two points:

(1) Although Gonzales began with a combative tone, he quickly abandoned it, because it is not his natural approach. He has neither the instincts nor the abilities to engage in a full day of verbal combat with anyone. He is far more comfortable with highly practiced, slippery, evasive buzzphrases which he simply repeats -- with a psuedo-respectful and borderline-smug tone -- over and over and over. And he quickly reverted to form.

It was apparent by the end that most of the Committee members, even including traditionally stalwart Bush-supporting Republicans (other than the blindly loyal Hatch and Cornyn), did not believe what Gonzales was saying and were not going to defend him vigorously (in fact, Coburn expressly called for him to resign and Graham all but accused Gonzales of being untruthful, labelling his key explanations a "stretch"). And the Judiciary Committee Democrats were far more emboldened and aggressive than they ever were before at one of these Gonzales hearings. So those are all encouraging signs, I suppose.

But it is hard not to have some mixed feelings over all of that, because what Alberto Gonzales did today -- and what he has done in this scandal since its inception -- is what he has been doing for the last six years, and particularly, during the last two years during his tenure as Attorney General. He has repeatedly lied to Congress, evaded their questions, concealed wrongdoing, expressed contempt for oversight and checks, particularly when it comes to the actions of the Leader, whom -- even as Attorney General -- he still plainly sees as his client and whose interests are his paramount, really his only, priority.

That is what Alberto Gonzales is -- he is a supremely loyal servant of George Bush and he was installed as the nation's chief law enforcement officer precisely because of that attribute. There really is very little he would not do, if there is anything, in service to the White House. And that has been evident for quite some time.

Nor is there anything unique about Gonzales himself. His conduct is the conduct of this administration, and his mindset is its mindset. The U.S. Attorneys scandal is merely illustrative, not unique in any way -- except that Bush's weakened state and subpoena power in the hands of Democrats have combined to produce slightly more oversight and scrutiny than before.

So it was gratifying, I suppose, to watch Alberto Gonzales finally be held accountable (at least rhetorically) and aggressively cornered due to his transparent evasions and untruths. But it is also difficult to avoid lamenting how many other times over the last several years he has done all of that with complete impunity. And it is far from clear whether there will be real accountablity even now.

Gonzales is a mere symbol -- really just an instrument -- of an entire Presidency guided for years by exactly these behaviors. And, at least thus far, they have engaged in that conduct with very, very few consequences.

(2) With any other president, Gonzales' departure would be a fait accompli. Even National Review's Byron York called Gonzales' morning testimony "disastrous," while CNN reported all sorts of extreme criticisms coming from unnamed White House aides.

But -- historically at least -- this President does not fire people under pressure. When political pressures are exerted on Bush, he does the opposite of what is demanded of him -- for no reason except to defy the requests of others. As but one example, the endless and years-long demands from many circles that Donald Rumsfeld be fired by itself ensured that Rumsfeld remained, until he was days away from becoming the longest-serving Defense Secretary in our nation's history.

Bush fires those who are disloyal. Those who are subservient and loyal are never fired, no matter their level of incompetence or corruption. Roughly a month ago, Chuck Schumer went on CNN's Late Edition and called for Gonzales' resignation and, in response, Lindsey Graham said: "I think the fact that Senator Schumer asked for him to step down means he won't."

That is how Bush works. If someone demands that Bush take action, he will petulantly refuse simply to demonstrate that he does not comply with anyone else's will. He is The Decider, nobody else, and nothing is more important than for him to demonstrate that. And loyalty to the Leader is valued infinitely higher than either integrity or competence, which are not remotely required for positions in the administration.

Consider the 2006 midterm elections -- a truly crushing blow to Bush's party and a resounding repudiation of his policies. The natural reaction for a normal person would be to re-assess what they did to lead them so astray. But in response to that election, Bush did the exact opposite -- he purged his administration still further of "dissidents," of anyone who demonstrated any independence, precisely in order to demonstrate that he would never listen to anyone else and to re-emphasize just how right he has been.

In December, 2006, The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin reviewed the post-midterm election ouster of several key Bush officials and concluded that it was driven by a "purge of the unbelievers." Froomkin cited Harriet Miers as White House counsel ("never a true believer in Vice President Cheney's views of a nearly unrestrained executive branch"), Iraq Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad ("considered by Cheney to be too soft on the Sunnis"), John Negroponte as National Intelligence Director ("not alarmist enough about the Iranian nuclear threat)", and Generals George Casey and John Abaziad ("jettisoned for having shown a little backbone in their opposition to Cheney and Bush's politically-motivated insistence on throwing more troops into the Iraqi conflagration").

In Bush's mind, the greatest sin is admitting error, or capitulating in any way to the Enemy. Firing Gonzales because Chuck Schumer demands it or because editorialists insist that there was wrongdoing here is exactly the opposite of how Bush behaves.

Obviously, it is possible that he is now so weakened as to have no choice, or that Gonzales will truly resign voluntarily. But while these hearings conclusively demonstrated that this scandal involves serious wrongdoing and dishonesty on Gonzales' part, that was already known before today. But Gonzales clearly showed up today intending and expecting to keep his job.

And that expectation was almost certainly due to the fact that the person for whom he works values, above all else, slavish loyalty and a willingness to do anything to protect the Leader. Nobody exhibits those attributes more than Alberto Gonzales, which is precisely why he is Attorney General in the first place, and it is precisely why the Department of Justice behaves as it does -- not just in this scandal, but generally.


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