Prospects Grim for Attorney General Gonzales
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Attorney General ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Department of Justice): I don't recall having - I don't recall in connection with - I don't recall - Senator, I don't recall - I don't recall when the decision was made.
HANSEN: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before last week contained that phrase, "I don't recall," some 70 times. That was one of the things that angered both Democrats and Republicans who hoped for more clarity from Mr. Gonzales about how decisions were made when eight U.S. attorneys were fired. Rather than support from Republicans, reaction moved in the other direction. Here's Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.
HANSEN: Joining us is Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome back, Doyle. Nice to see you.
Mr. DOYLE MCMANUS (Washington Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Thank you, Liane, and good morning
HANSEN: The performance by Attorney General Gonzales excoriated by the Democrats, but did you expect more support for him from the Republicans on the committee?
Mr. MCMANUS: Well, initially, yes, and there might have been more support if that hearing had happened three or four weeks ago. But there's been a steady erosion, most importantly, of support from Republicans. And you heard it from Senator Coburn, Senator Cornyn of Texas, and other Bush loyalists. It's happening all across the board, and it's because Attorney General Gonzales has not one problem; he has three problems. And in a funny way, the main issue here, which is has he politicized the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys, is the least important in political terms, but politics works that way sometimes.
What's really hurting him is problem number two, which is he hasn't handled this well at all. Republicans are saying privately - some of them publicly - that there's an incompetence issue here, and that doesn't make them happy in the Senate because they're going to run for reelection. They don't want his problem to become their problem.
And then finally, the third nail in the coffin - and in Washington terms, maybe the worst problem of all - is that Attorney General Gonzales made a big mistake: He did not treat Republican senators well over the last two years of his tenure. Look, there's an old rule in politics - it's politics 101 - it's fine to mistreat your enemies, but don't ever mistreat your friends, because they'll come back to bite you.
HANSEN: The attorney general has a good friend in President Bush. He's standing by his man. Is that frustrating to the Republicans?
Mr. MCMANUS: It is. It is especially to those, as I say, who are unlike the president, who are running again and worried about this problem becoming theirs. Look, this is characteristic of George W. Bush. It's actually characteristic of his family. They prize loyalty as an enormous virtue. And Alberto Gonzales has been - let's remember - a friend, an aide, a lawyer, a counsel to President Bush since before he became governor of Texas. This really would be the most painful firing George W. Bush has had to make as president.
The other factor here - and we saw this with earlier cases, for example, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld who - there were calls for Rumsfeld to resign from the first year of his tenure - George W. Bush hates the idea of firing someone under pressure, of appearing to buckle before your enemies. People in the White House sometimes say it's the metaphor of blood in the water. If you give them that, they'll just want more. But in this case, it's hard to see how Alberto Gonzales keeps his job.
HANSEN: Is this a good time to briefly bring up World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz?
Mr. MCMANUS: It is. It's the same phenomenon, in a sense. Paul Wolfowitz' friends will say - and I think this is fair - that he hasn't yet had the full hearing, that people at the World Bank have been after him for a long time. But again, the response of this White House falls into the same pattern. If we give them this, they're just going to want more. Now, that one's going to play out in a longer and more decorous way, because Paul Wolfowitz' fate is in the hands not of other politicians but of other governments. And so that'll take months to play out.
HANSEN: Coming up this week: work session on the Iraq war supplemental spending bill. Language is still working - being worked out. Are you expecting or seeing any movement from either side on this?
Mr. MCMANUS: Actually, movement on both sides. The Democrats - the liberal Democrats in the House are behaving like a well-organized political force, something that has rarely been seen in history or science. And they are saying - even some of those liberals who said they couldn't accept a non-binding resolution at first that wouldn't require the president to begin taking troops out of combat, they're now saying, well, if that's what it takes to get a bill in front of him, to get a bill through the Senate, okay, we can compromise on that. So the liberals are holding together in a way that's a little alarming to the administration.
In the Senate, we are seeing an erosion of Republican support. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, a key moderate Republican, said she's going to introduce a bill that won't go quite as far as the Democrats want to go, but it makes her, in a sense, the third Republican to defect from where the administration is. That is a big trouble sign.
HANSEN: And very, very briefly, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Iraq. General Petraeus is going to be talking about the surge. Anything different?
Mr. MCMANUS: Well, Secretary Gates told the Iraqis that it is time for political reforms and that American patience isn't infinite. What's different is, he sounds like he means it.
HANSEN: Don McManus is the Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for coming in, Doyle.
Mr. MCMANUS: Thank you, Liane.