Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Seedy Gonzales

This post is no longer timely, but I will attempt to finish what I began.

From WaPo:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's senior counselor yesterday refused to testify in the Senate about her involvement in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Monica M. Goodling, who has taken an indefinite leave of absence, said in a sworn affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she will "decline to answer any and all questions" about the firings because she faces "a perilous environment in which to testify."

The decision means a senior aide to the nation's top law enforcement official is in the remarkable position of refusing to testify for fear of implicating herself in a crime. Her lawyer portrays the move as strategic and says she has done nothing wrong.

But one of Goodling's lawyers, John Dowd, said in a statement yesterday that "the potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real."

About that last bit...

First of all, which is it? Does she have something to hide or not? Well without going into the facts of the investigation(which look real bad), I'm gonna guess: Yes, she does. That's a pretty reasonable conclusion to draw when anyone, especially a lawyer 1) hires multiple lawyers to protect them, and 2) those lawyers tell different stories. That's mighty suspicious in my book.

More importantly, how could her lawyer say that it's just a strategic move? That should be an outrage! If she's taking the fifth under false pretenses, that's an abuse of the justice system, and isn't that what this is all about?

Granted, it would be impossible to prove perjury in such a case, as the only thing more difficult than proving that she did something wrong would be proving that she didn't do anything wrong (it's literally impossible). That is all the more reason to take it seriously when some lawyer goes around bragging that his client is just gaming the system. In fact, it's exactly what this whole mess is about in the first place: accountability by administration officials for the things they do and say, and say they didn't do, and did but don't remember.

I think the judge should take her lawyer at his word and compel Goodling to testify: "Per your lawyer's statement, you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, therefore you are not entitled to Fifth Amendment protection." That's accountability. If you want to claim the fifth, you don't get to claim a PR victory and go around bragging about how you did nothing wrong; you must accept the burden of shame that accompanies a senior aide in the Justice Department having done something potentially incriminating, as well you should.

The whole thing (not just Goodling, but also Gonzales' actual testimony, Bush's "reasonable proposal" that his aides be questioned off the record and not under oath, and the whole three rings of this circus) reminds me of this old lawyer joke, which reminds us that while these people are clearly assholes, they are not idiots.
Prosecutor: Did you kill the victim?
Defendant: No, I did not.
Prosecutor: Do you know what the penalties are for perjury?
Defendant: Yes, I do. And they're a hell of a lot better than the penalty for murder.

As for the actual proceedings of the investigation, I won't bother to comment, since Gonzo has so thoroughly disgraced himself that there is nobody left to argue with me that he's not a fool and/or liar, and that just wouldn't be any fun.

This post, excerpted below, from DailyKos pretty much says it all. It also brings up the point that this whole scandal is somewhat Clintonesque in its relative banality; if the AG had just said, "Yeah, we canned some Dems because the Pres wanted to put party hacks in their places, and by the way, that's his prerogative" this wouldn't have been nearly such a big deal. Not that it would have gone unnoticed, but it almost certainly wouldn't have ended with even Republicans calling for Gonzales' resignation. Like many other "scandals" the hurt lay more in the lies that concealed it than in the act itself. As Francois de La Rochefoucauld observed, "Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we resort to to hide them." With an administration that has been so unrelentingly uncooperative, so intractably opaque, and so pathologically dishonest in trying to cover its cronyistic tracks, the whole country was just raring to nail them for a slip-up. And so we have.
Of course Gonzales is both a bumbling fool and a liar. Today's performance put that debate to rest. It's almost a shame that his downfall was this relatively mundane political scandal (though certainly more egregious malfeasance by the administration is likely to be uncovered as the investigation unfolds) and not a result of his crimes against the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, the Magna Carta, the basic rule of law. But I guess we take what we can get.

A few related clips and links are below.
Here is Gonzales denying that Habeas Corpus is constitutionally protected. The meat of his argument: "There is no expressed grant of Habeas in the Constitution, there's a prohibition against taking it away." Can't beat that logic with a stick! [But you can alligator-clamp a car battery to its gonads.]

Here's Olbermann on the death of Habeas Corpus vis-a-vis the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (the good part starts at about 2:47):

Let's get a little lowbrow. Check out #4 on this countdown:

Here's some more from the Gonzales hearings, and they have forced me to reevaluate my opinion. Here's the scoop:

On the one hand, that testimony actually makes me feel a bit sympathetic towards Gonzo; I can see why you'd want to torture someone when you know he's lying through his teeth. On the other, this is outrageous, but a different way than I had expected.

We expected Gonzales to dissemble and lie. But at this point it is abundantly clear that he is also an idiot. I mean, this is the nation's top-ranking lawyer, and he looks more than stupid, more than untruthful: he looks like he has absolutely no idea what he's doing. Of course he's going to lie to cover up for those who put him in power, but I thought he would be clever enough to dress it up in some slick argument that diverts us away from the point, or at least use some legalese to obfuscate his reaming for the lay audience. Lawyer jokes aside, could this guy possibly know a thing about argumentation? In my only court experience (Class C misdemeanor for jaywalking, if you care), I saw an alcoholic homeless bum mount a more compelling legal defense! I shit you not. Bush himself could have handled those questions better.

And this is the great irony of this case. If they had simply admitted the obvious fact that these firings were exactly what they appear to be, this probably have been a minor scandal, or just one more dirty trick that only historians and policy wonks will remember. But this enormous ordeal has, I believe, shed light on the far more dangerous side of the same issue: politics supplanting meritocracy. It is not unusual that a president should seek to consolidate his ideology within the government by way of "purging" other political appointees. Nor is it unusual that he appoint his own henchmen to those vacant positions. But Bush's administration has time and again shown utter contempt for the notion of expertise, opting instead for candidates who possess a mafia-like loyalty to the hand that feeds them. This has lead to some of the most spectacular bungling, and consequent bungling of the cover-ups, that the executive branch has ever seen. Bush's appointees across the board are people who, when push comes to congressional investigation, will sacrifice every shred of credibility and dignity they have to take the heat for the higher-ups, knowing, or at least believing, all along that they will be rewarded in the end.

Libby had that loyalty, but he was also a pretty clever guy. What terrifies me about Gonzales is that he appears to be a thoroughly incompetent lawyer, lacking even the modicum of qualification that would make him a suitable political hack. Bush is our nation's Happy Gilmore (in so many ways) and Gonzo is his bum caddy. How many more like him fill the ranks of our government, and how great are their responsibilities? What could be the consequences of their gross incompetence? Another Katrina? Iraq?

Cronyism is, in its mild to moderate form, an inevitable but manageable hazard inherent to our system: a pothole of democracy. Taken to the extreme, though, it is a fundamental threat to the function of our government, which relies heavily on the appointed bureaucracy to implement the policies developed by elected officials. Scientists that don't believe in evolution, doctors who prescribe the Bible, FEMA directors who are barely qualified to judge horses, lawyers who have no business in high ranking judicial positions (remember Harriet Miers's Supreme Court nomination?): these are not mere trifles to be dismissed with a light-hearted "partisans will be partisans" apology. They are perilous in the extreme, and they have already hurt us deeply and often, if sometimes subtly. The great scandal that this congressional investigation revealed is not that a Bush political appointee did some shady political maneuvering, but rather that such a moron could become such a powerful official in the first place.

Update: More shameless lies, and perhaps one of the most disturbing revelations yet, from Ashcroft's former deputy AG, James Comey.

Finally, Goodling gives it up. Check out the video where Steve Cohen (D-TN) rips Goodling about her Christian diploma mill law school. Also, apropos of above comments, Goodling is clearly a moron.