White House Runs Scandal Script

Bill Scher

Recognizing that its political purge of eight U.S. attorneys was about to reach critical mass—particularly because of the appearance that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress about it—the White House is now running its script to beat back the media interest.

That effort climaxed Wednesday with President Bush’s comments on the firings, which combined a rhetorical slap on Gonzales’ wrist for misleading Congress with a no-big-deal dismissal of the underlying controversy. The bottom line, he said, was that the attorney firings were “entirely appropriate” and that “past administrations have removed U.S. attorneys. It’s their right to do so.”

Monday, it selectively leaked information to The New York Times and The Washington Post, both which ran articles that shed some light on the White House involvement in the purge and the attempt to circumvent the Senate’s traditional confirmation process.

Nevertheless the creative leaks, by design, set up Gonzales for his press conference Tuesday.

At the conference, Gonzales’ main messages were:

1. I Didn’t Do It: Kyle Sampson, who was my chief of staff until yesterday, didn’t tell me he tried to install new attorneys without Senate confirmation. So I didn’t break the law and lie to Congress when I said we wouldn’t do that. I just unwittingly gave “incomplete information.”

2. They Got Purged: U.S. Attorneys are political appointees that “serve at the pleasure of the President.” If they got purged by White House, so what?

Regarding whether Gonzales knowingly lied, all I can say is: Let’s first find some documents that aren’t spoon-fed to us by the Bushies.

On the purging of political appointees, I give you former US attorney Kent Alexander, who said on CNN Tuesday:

It is a political appointment. The president appoints you. But once you step through those doors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, partisan politics should be left at the door. And then you’re representing Justice. You’re not representing a political party.

This is an extension of the conservative project to cripple the civil service that I’ve talked about before, so our government no longer adheres to facts, follows the law and serves the public.

The idea is to put more power in the hands of political appointees, hacks blindly loyal to the President, who can ram through an agenda regardless of the law and the facts. President Bush on Wednesday, in essence, embraced that agenda.

But in this case, some political appointees at Justice were daring to follow the wise tradition of independence from the White House, so the law would not be corrupted.

The political appointees were too loyal to the law and the public, not loyal enough to the President. So they got purged.

And the message from Gonzales, and from the president himself, is, so what?

Bill Scher blogs for Campaign for America’s Future.

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