Friday, March 30, 2007

Gonzalez and Rove

I find the scandal surrounding the firing of the prosecutors to be somewhat fascinating theater. It is an interesting question of how you can serve at the pleasure of the president yet not be beholden to his political priorities. After all, if the president's law enforcement priorities were immigration enforcement (for political reasons or otherwise) and the prosecutor were to focus instead on drug enforcement, nobody would argue that the president would be out of bounds in replacing that prosecutor with one that reflected his priorities.

Yet even if the firings are technically legal that doesn't mean that they are justifiable or ethical. The nation's judicial system rests on perception of fairness and being free from overt political influence. If it's not OK for a congressman to call a prosecutor to ask about whether they are pursuing a case (it isn't OK), then there is clearly something wrong with firing prosecutors who for failing to be "loyal" enough to the president, and congress is thus absolutely justified to investigate.

Which brings me to two observations:

The first is that Alberto Gonzalez has by all accounts been less than credible - his testimony has been incomplete at best, lying at worst. 10 years ago, Clinton was impeached not because he got a blowjob but because he lied about getting a blowjob. Even if the firings turn out to have been OK (a big "if"), it sure seems to me that Gonzalez's shifting testimony falls in the same category as Clinton's.

The second observation is that Bush will let Miers and Rove testify, but only with no oath, no transcript, and no public. He's claiming executive privilege, but I don't see how that can hold up in the face of what amounts to an investigation of wrongdoing. (I have no idea if that's true from a legal perspective, I'm just talking from the perspective of what's right and what engenders trust in the system.) He calls the investigations "political theater" rather than a search for the truth. But given the suspect testimony to date, Congress is quite right to assume that "the truth" will not come from a closed-door no-oath no-transcript session. If Bush really wanted the truth (and truly believed in accountability), wouldn't he demand at least an oath and transcript, even if it's behind closed doors?

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