Gonzales: "No Place For Politics At Justice"

Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
Twenty-four-and-one-half pages into a 26-page speech he is prepared to give Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales finally found the time and space to briefly share with lawmakers his latest views on the U.S. Attorney scandal—the "politicization of hiring in the Department" he labels it with a false sense of detachment.

"I believe very strongly that there is no place for political considerations in the hiring of our career employees or in the administration of justice," the Attorney General writes. "As such, the allegations of such activity have been troubling to hear. From my perspective, there are two options available in light of these allegations. I could walk away or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems. Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here and fix the problems. That is exactly what I am doing."

No one is fooled any longer by Gonzales' Captain Renaud imitation. Surely he is not really shocked—SHOCKED!—to find his Justice Department politicized. After all, he is one of the people who helped politicize it. It was Gonzales who failed to protect career professionals at Justice; it was Gonzales who encouraged or tolerated the hiring practices that brought partisan hacks into the Department at the expense of non-partisan veterans. And it was Gonzales who allowed his patrons at the White House to turn Justice into just another arm of Karl Rove's political machinery.

In a piece Tuesday focusing upon Gonzales' testimony, and the related news that the House of Representatives is pushing ahead with contempt proceedings against White House chief of staff Joshua Bolton and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, the Washington Post's Dan Eggen wrote:

Most members of Gonzales's senior staff have resigned or are on the way out. Several outside candidates turned down chances to be considered for the job of his deputy, and more than a half-dozen other top positions remain filled by temporary appointees. Some of the department's key legislative priorities -- including intelligence law revisions and anti-crime proposals -- have also bogged down because of the fight with Democrats over the prosecutor firings.

"It takes away from normal work," one recently departed Justice official said about the persistent controversy over Gonzales's role in the firings and the use of improper political considerations in hiring career employees. "It obviously has a serious impact," said the former official, who would discuss the department's internal workings only if not identified.

Doesn't matter. Gonzales goes to Capitol Hill Tuesday and argues that the person responsible for causing the problem should be the one responsible for fixing it. Wouldn't it be nice if the rest of us were allowed by our bosses to oversee the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the worst foul-ups we've ever accomplished in our professional lives? Would it be great if the narratives we conjure up in our minds to rationalize our colossal failings at work, or in our personal lives, were given the full force of law? And if the only person who could fire us had decided instead to keep us at our post to prove a point to his enemies and ours?

Gonzales devoted only a few paragraphs to the scandal. It's clear he wants to pretend it is going away even as a grand constitutional showdown looms over Congressional questions about Justice Department practices. But even as he tries to gloss over his failed leadership it's clear he lacks the judgment and decency to lead. Why? Because the guy thinks that his refusal to quit is a sign of some inner strength, as if anyone cares any longer about Gonzales' inner struggle for respect and courage.

If the Attorney General wants to prove a point about redemption and resolve, let him instead go off into the wilderness for a few years and come back with a book that offers a candid look at all that went wrong during his tenure at the Justice Department. Or, better yet, let him come to Congress and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth instead of trying to defend himself with silly platitudes. He's failed miserably as Attorney General. And now he's failing, too, at knowing when it's time to quit.