it takes two…

Posted on Tuesday 29 May 2007

Goodling’s testimony last week was a soft sell. She did not seem like a cold-blooded commissar. On her Regent Law School Web site (class of ’99), she comes across as sweetly naive, hoping to make the world "a better place" and urging everyone to "smile." Under oath (and given immunity from prosecution), she seemed shy and a little overwhelmed, more Rosemary Woods than Madame Defarge, although she never got rattled or resorted to histrionics. Wringing her hands beneath the witness table, she acknowledged that she may have improperly used political considerations to choose career prosecutors. "I crossed the line," she said, taking a deep breath, a Christian girl who succumbed to temptation. Carefully prepared by a shrewd lawyer, John Dowd, she suggested, almost in passing, that Gonzales may have crossed another line by discussing with her his account of how the U.S. attorneys were fired. The implication was that Gonzales had been subtly trying to coach her testimony. "I just thought maybe we shouldn’t have that conversation," she said.

If Goodling’s testimony helps to bring down Gonzales, a distinct possibility, President Bush will be exposed to more questions and dragged into a messy confirmation battle over Gonzales’s successor. And so Goodling, like Nixon’s unfortunate secretary Rosemary Woods, may be destined to be a footnote in history—but an important one.

Goodling admitted checking the political donations of some job applicants before hiring them for jobs that are supposed to be apolitical. While crass, her actions did not threaten to bring down the republic. Still, they are part of a broader and more troubling picture—a slow and stealthy erosion of the independence of the Justice Department. President Bush’s personal involvement remains uncertain, as does the precise role of his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Nonetheless, the clearest evidence of legal subversion comes not from congressional Democrats, but from once loyal Bush conservatives who worked at the Justice Department.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is really sick. About to give a press conference in Virginia, he is stricken with pain so severe he has to lie down on the floor. Taken to the hospital for an emergency gallbladder operation, he hallucinates under medication as he lies, near death, in intensive care. On the night after his operation, he has two visitors: White House chief of staff Andrew Card and presidential counsel Alberto Gonzales. As described in public testimony, they want Ashcroft to sign a document authorizing the government’s top-secret eavesdropping program to go on. The attorney general, who thinks the program is illegal, refuses.
On the night after Ashcroft’s operation, as Ashcroft lay groggy in his bed, his wife, Janet, took a phone call. It was Andy Card, asking if he could come over with Gonzales to speak to the attorney general. Mrs. Ashcroft said no, her husband was too sick for visitors. The phone rang again, and this time Mrs. Ashcroft acquiesced to a visit from the White House officials. Who was the second caller, one with enough power to persuade Mrs. Ashcroft to relent? The former Ashcroft aide who described this scene would not say, but senior DOJ officials had little doubt who it was—the president. (The White House would not comment on the president’s role.) Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David Ayres, then called Comey, Ashcroft’s deputy, to warn him that the White House duo was on the way. With an FBI escort, Comey raced to the hospital to try to stop them, but Ashcroft himself was strong enough to turn down his White House visitors’ request.
The two frontline issues with the Bush Administration right now, the War on Iraq and the U.S. Justice Department’s firing of U.S. Attorneys, are neither one related to the poisonous Liberal/Conservative atmosphere that has fueled the political furnace of the last six years. In the Department of Justice affair, we heard testimony from two credible witnesses in the recent couple of weeks. I think this article has put that testimony into perspective.

Goodling was a surprise, at least to me. Isikoff calls Goodling’s testimony a "soft sell." I guess it was soft in the sense that she wasn’t Mata Hari, or Lucinda Doan. But what she had to say was actually a bombshell. She readily admitted not just taking the political affiliation of candidates for DoJ jobs into account, she went out of her way to find their political histories. Little wonder that she wanted immunity. What she did was a crime. And it says a lot about the internal climate of the DoJ [and Government in general] under Bush. Political affiliation and loyalty are paramount – "government of the people" has openly become "government of the Party."

As Isikoff points out, Comey’s testimony was more damning. The President didn’t get his way, so he [in person] directly intervened to try to get Attorney General Ashcroft to sign off on an illegal program on his sick-bed. While Goodling’s testimony speaks to the Partisan Climate of the Bush Administration, Comey’s story addresses their Unprincipled Methodology. Like the outing of a covert C.I.A. Agent, trying to get a desparately ill man to sign an order is criminal in any sense of the word. Comey beat him, but that put a death knell on both his and Ashcroft’s tenure in office. Comey left of his own accord. Ashcroft resigned prior to being fired, and he was replaced with a figure-head. In all of this, cherubic little Alberto Gonzales looks like a wooden puppet at best, and more likely a corrupt co·conspirator.

Things seem quiet this week on the U.S. Attorney front. We’re all worrying about the War, and Scooter’s sentencing, and Crazy Dick Cheney running around spewing venom, but those two testimonies will be with us for a very long time. Two credible witnesses, both insiders, both loyal Republicans – both singing the same shameful song…

    May 30, 2007 | 6:28 AM

    In an op-ed in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram on Fri the recently retired State Dept. Director of media affairs wrote the “We have eroded not only the goodwill of the post-911-days but also any residual appreciation from the countries” There is a lot more. Is this another crack in the Bush foundation? Check out the Think Progress and War and Piece blogs. Why haven’t we heard the media talking about this? Is this our Elliot Richardson moment? Only if the media picks it up. He lists a lot of the abuses of this Administration. Is his patriotism coming out? Or is he concerned by his conscience. Slowly it’s Comey, Goodling,and now Floyd talking about this White House.

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