To its enemies, the most endearing quality of the Bush administration must be the frequency with which the Bushies act as if they've done something wrong, even when they haven't.
President Bush caused himself no end of grief when he apologized for saying in his 2003 state of the union address "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," even though every word of it was true.
That blunder may have been topped by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at his news conference last Wednesday. The "senior Justice Department official" who told reporters Mr. Gonzales' performance was "disastrous" was being kind.
Mr. Gonzales called the news conference to respond to the manufactured "scandal" of the administration's decision to fire eight of the 93 U.S. attorneys.
"Mistakes were made," Mr. Gonzales said, without explaining what those mistakes were, or who made them. The Justice department has issued shifting explanations for why these U.S. attorneys were dismissed. The Attorney General said he supported the firings, but was unaware of the specific details of how they came about. Which is curious, because his chief of staff was heavily involved in them.
That he didn't know what was going on under his nose is, however, the most credible thing Mr. Gonzales said. Only President Bush, with his apparently boundless enthusiasm for mediocrities (Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job), imagined that Mr. Gonzales was a good choice to be attorney general, and he has lived down to the expectations most held for him. The FBI's bungling of the issuance of national security letters is just the most recent bit of a mountain of evidence the Justice department under Mr. Gonzales is as well managed as was the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the hapless Michael Brown.
U.S. Attorneys are political appointees who usually are recommended for their jobs by the U.S. senators from their states who are members of the president's party. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be dismissed at any time for any reason. When President Clinton took office, he dismissed all 93 U.S. attorneys in one fell swoop, a fact which somehow hasn't made it into most news accounts of the current controversy.
If any of the U.S. attorneys had been dismissed because of how they were conducting an ongoing investigation, that would be improper. But there is no evidence of this. The emails released by the Department of Justice indicate seven of the eight were dismissed because they weren't pursuing the administration's enforcement priorities, or because they'd bungled earlier cases, or both. (The eighth was fired because the Bushies wanted to give his job to another guy.)
This is perfectly ok. If the boss wants you to do something, and it isn't illegal, immoral or fattening, you should do it. If you choose not to do it, you shouldn't be surprised to find yourself pounding the pavement.
Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, said the brouhaha pits incompetence against hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is winning. Democrats and journalists who saw nothing amiss when President Clinton dismissed a U.S. attorney who was actively investigating him and his wife in the Whitewater land deal, and another who was actively investigating criminal activities by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, then the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, express mock outrage over these firings.
None have done it as dishonestly as the Los Angeles Times. The Times implied that Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego, was dismissed because of her investigation of the corruption of GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
But as the Times well knows, the Justice department emails reveal Ms. Lam had been targeted for dismissal months before a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune triggered Ms. Lam's investigation of Rep. Cunningham. The Bushies were unhappy with her because of her unwillingness to pursue immigration law violations, not her eagerness to pursue political corruption.
The phony scandal puts conservatives in a quandary. Alberto Gonzales is a bumbling fool who ought not to be attorney general. His efforts to shift blame for the curt and clumsy manner in which the firings were conducted are both pathetic and deplorable.
But there is a big difference between being a bumbling fool and being a crook. If Mr. Gonzales is forced from office for these spurious reasons, we can expect more bogus assaults on administration officials.
Sigh. I suspect conservatives, even more than liberals, long for an end to the Bush administration.