If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigns over the U.S. attorneys flap, many Republicans will not be sorry to see him go.
It's not just that some believe Gonzales made a huge mistake in claiming that he asked for the resignations of eight U.S. attorneys for "performance-related" reasons which was bad form. Or as Washington attorney Victoria Toensing, who worked in the Reagan administration, noted: "Replacing at-will employees should be Government 101. This is not a difficult process. They flunked smart."
Forget the U.S. attorneys flap. Many on the right believe that Gonzales has been lax in enforcing immigration law, not been sufficiently partisan and that he's not particularly competent, either. They wonder: With friends like this, who needs enemies?
For example, some Republicans wonder why Gonzales did not include U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas on his got-to-go list. Sutton, you may recall, prosecuted two Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, for shooting at a fleeing drug smuggler, covering up the incident and depriving the Mexican smuggler of his constitutional rights. Many voters are outraged that the two agents are now serving 11-year and 12-year sentences.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is incensed that Gonzales did not stop Sutton from throwing the book at two good agents strike one while Sutton granted immunity to a man who was smuggling 743 pounds of marijuana into the country. Strike two.
Rohrabacher told me that his frustration with the Bushies had been mounting. "I kept quiet for a long time," he said. "But when he put the lives of these two Border Patrol agents on the line and decided he was going to squash them like a bug, that was the end of it."
The cherry on top: Gonzales failed to protect Ramos and Compean when they entered prisons filled with the sort of criminals they used to put away. One night, gang members at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex in Mississippi beat up Ramos. Said Rohrabacher: "The attorney general knew and knows today that these two men's lives are at risk. Instead of moving forward to try to send them to a minimum security prison or let them get out on bond (while they appeal), he has dug his heels in." Strike three.
Readers have e-mailed me to complain about the Bush administration's overall lack of border enforcement, including Border Patrol non-pursuit policies that seem gift-wrapped for drug traffickers and human smugglers.
Then there is former Clinton adviser Sandy Berger. It drives conservatives crazy that the feds prosecuted Scooter Libby for lying about leaking the identity of ex-CIA operative Valerie Wilson, when the feds cut a generous plea bargain with Berger for destroying classified documents.
Berger, who in 2003 destroyed classified National Archives documents relating to the Clinton administration's terrorism policies, received no penalty: no jail time, just a fine, 100 hours of community service and he even gets his security clearance back after three years.
Earlier this year, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., charged the Justice Department with giving Berger a "free pass." Davis was especially critical of the DOJ's decision not to polygraph Berger, who originally denied destroying documents. Partisans wonder why a Democrat got a sweeter deal than a Republican.
Indeed, many GOP partisans believe that Gonzales should have urged President Bush to pardon Libby in 2006, as soon as it was learned that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the original leaker of Wilson's identity. Fitzgerald, they mutter, should have closed up shop as soon as he started the investigation, because he knew Armitage was the original source. Instead, he went on a witch hunt for an act that apparently was not a crime, because Fitzgerald never charged Armitage.
It gets worse. Gonzales had a chance to learn that Armitage was the original leaker in 2003 when he was White House counsel. A top State Department lawyer told Gonzales that Armitage was going to speak to Justice officials about the Wilson leak and asked whether Gonzales wanted to be told the details. As The New York Times reported, Gonzales said he did not want to know.
As one conservative lawyer, who did not want to be named, told me, the right wants an attorney general who is a "pugilist." As for Gonzales, he said, "All he does is walk backward and apologize."