Saturday, March 10, 2007
* "...the Bush administration is unraveling amid declining public support and trust."
* "Get somebody new."Attorney General Gonzales' new problems add to Bush's continuing ones
-RON FOURNIER | AP | March 9, 2007 07:21 PM EST
WASHINGTON — Another day, another scandal. The Justice Department's improper and illegal use of the USA Patriot Act has Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in trouble, an all-too-familiar circumstance for President George W. Bush's inner circle.
The last thing a troubled president needs is another friend in trouble.
"This strikes me as another blow for the administration," said Republican consultant Joe Gaylord.
He was not the only Republican fretting about the Republican president's White House after a Justice Department audit criticized the FBI's use of extraordinary powers, granted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, to obtain personal information secretly.
"This is, regrettably, part of an ongoing process where the federal authorities are not really sensitive to privacy and go far beyond what we have authorized," said Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers already were seething at the Justice Department for the firing of eight federal prosecutors and Gonzales' dismissive response to critics.
"One day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later," Specter said Thursday.
It is too soon to tell whether Gonzales, a close Texas friend of Bush, might be forced to leave. Even his ouster, however, would do little to change a perception that the Bush administration is unraveling amid declining public support and trust. Some big names already have had to leave.
Donald H. Rumsfeld was forced to resign after Democrats seized control of Congress in fall elections that were a repudiation of Bush's policies on Iraq.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a powerful adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, left the White House to face perjury charges in the investigation of the exposure of a CIA official. He was convicted Tuesday in a trial that also revealed that top Bush aide Karl Rove and a State Department official played roles in the CIA leak, part of a White House strategy to undermine a critic of the Iraq war.
Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs and former Republican Party chairman, is clinging to his job amid revelations of shoddy treatment for wounded troops from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The latest events are more heavy baggage for a president who already is close to his limit. Re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2004, Bush watched his job approval rating plummet in 2005 with the rise of violence in Iraq and the government's weak response and follow-up after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to huge swaths of the country's southern coastline.
With a rating of just 35 percent, Bush's standing is the weakest of any second-term president at this point in 56 years.
"Gonzales' problems here feed into and build on all of the competence issues that have been dogging the administration since Katrina," said Charles Franklin, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Gonzales, architect of Bush's controversial approach to detaining and interrogating terror suspects, drew the wrath of lawmakers when he dismissed the hubbub over fired prosecutors as an "overblown personnel matter." Critics say the U.S. attorneys were dismissed for refusing to do the administration's political bidding.
Under fire, Gonzales beat an abrupt retreat and agreed to accommodate Democratic-led investigations.
On the wrongdoing regarding the Patriot Act, a spokesman for Gonzales said he was incensed by the allegations.
If nothing else, perhaps Gonzales is displaying a scintilla of accountability, a trait the administration only reluctantly embraced after Katrina and throughout the Iraq war.
Still, some say it may be time for Gonzales to go.
"The president is dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan and a new Congress, and the last thing in the world he needs is this," said Joseph diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia in President Ronald Reagan's administration. "At some point, he throws up his hands and says `Get somebody new.' I don't know when that is."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press for nearly 20 years.
"Fortunately, Mr. Rove's smear-and-fear tactics fell short last November. I say fortunately, because without Democrats in control of Congress, able to hold hearings and issue subpoenas, the prosecutor purge would probably have become yet another suppressed Bush-era scandal - a huge abuse of power that somehow never became front-page news."
And, from the New York Times Editorial, March 11, 2007:
On Thursday, Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hinted very obliquely that perhaps Mr. Gonzales’s time was up. We’re not going to be oblique. Mr. Bush should dismiss Mr. Gonzales and finally appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution.
And from the Los Angeles Times, this just in:
Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York — citing recent disclosures about the FBI's improper use of administrative subpoenas to obtain private records and the controversy over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys in December — told CBS' "Face the Nation" that Gonzales, who previously served as White House counsel, "is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution."
Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, charged that under Gonzales, the Justice Department has become even more politicized than it was under President Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft.
"And so," Schumer said, "I think for the sake of the nation, Atty. Gen. Gonzales should step down."