Monday, July 30, 2007

A Long History of Deception

So is this outbreak of alleged perjury against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a new twist on an otherwised unblemished career, or is it part of a pattern that goes back throughout his time in public office? The Washington Post has done some digging.

The accusation that Gonzales has been deceptive in his public remarks has erupted this summer into a full-blown political crisis for the Bush administration, as the beleaguered attorney general struggles repeatedly to explain to Congress the removal of a batch of U.S. attorneys, the wiretapping program and other actions.

In each case, Gonzales has appeared to lawmakers to be shielding uncomfortable facts about the Bush administration’s conduct on sensitive matters. A series of misstatements and omissions has come to define his tenure at the helm of the Justice Department and is the central reason that lawmakers in both parties have been trying for months to push him out of his job.

Yet controversy over Gonzales’s candor about George W. Bush’s conduct or policies has actually dogged him for more than a decade, since he worked for Bush in Texas.


“He’s a slippery fellow, and I think so intentionally,” said Richard L. Schott, a professor at the University of Texas’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “He’s trying to keep the president’s secrets and to be a team player, even if it means prevaricating or forgetting convenient things.”

“This almost subconscious bond of loyalty” between the attorney general and the president “may be driving a lot of this,” said Schott, who has studied relations between the executive and legislative branches of government and the role of psychology in political behavior. “It’s obvious that Gonzales owes Bush his career. Part of his behavior comes from this gratitude and extreme loyalty to Bush.”

Bill Minutaglio, a University of Texas journalism professor and author of biographies of Gonzales and Bush, said Gonzales kept an “extremely, extremely low profile” in the three jobs Bush gave him in the Texas government — general counsel, secretary of state and judge on the Supreme Court — and had little practice before he came to Washington at responding publicly to stiff scrutiny. “The grilling he’s enduring right now is beyond anything he had ever experienced in his life. He was ill prepared for it,” Minutaglio said.


Questions about Gonzales’s willingness to shade the truth on Bush’s behalf came to prominence in the 1996 episode in which Bush was excused from Texas jury duty in a drunken-driving case. Bush was then the state’s governor, and Gonzales was his general counsel. If Bush had served, he probably would have had to disclose his own drunken-driving conviction in Maine two decades earlier.

The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney involved in the case have said that Gonzales met with the judge and argued that jury service would pose a potential conflict of interest for Bush, who could be asked to pardon the defendant. Gonzales has disputed that account. He made no mention of meeting with the judge in a written statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It is one thing to be a legal representative for a client and work in that client’s best interest. But I also know that a lawyer that is willing to commit or condone perjury on behalf of his client or knowingly allow his client to do so is subject to disbarment and prosecution. This bit of the ethical canon of lawyers has somehow escaped the attention of Mr. Gonzales. Or, in his words, he doesn’t recall it.

What’s even more odd is that there are still Republicans who will defend Mr. Gonzales in spite of all the evidence that he clearly isn’t being honest with the Congress or the American people. Watching Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah sputter and snort on ABC’s This Week yesterday was almost sorrowful had it been not so comical. Mr. Hatch, who pulled out all the stops to go after Bill Clinton and carried on about the Rule of Law until Hell wouldn’t have it, made excuses and claimed that the only reason Mr. Gonzales has a “credibility problem” is because Congress is being so harsh on him. In other words, they’re doing their job. I don’t recall Mr. Hatch or other Republicans being so forgiving to the Clinton administration.

It also makes you wonder what tack they will take when it becomes all too obvious to them — should that happen — that Mr. Gonazales’s tenure at the Justice Department is not only a drain on the legal system but when it becomes an issue in the presidential campaign. Yet another YouTube question the Republicans won’t get asked because they chickened out of that debate: Would you tolerate the behavior of someone like Alberto Gonzales as a member of your cabinet?