At Least the Boss Was Satisfied by Gonzales’s Answers
WASHINGTON, April 23 — President Bush said Monday that the Congressional testimony of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales last week, roundly panned by members of both parties, had “increased my confidence in his ability to do the job.”While few others shared Mr Bush's feelings Dahlia Lithwick wonders if maybe Alberto Gonzales was brilliant.
Speaking during a short question-and-answer session in the Oval Office, Mr. Bush said of Mr. Gonzales’s performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer.”
Mr. Bush has repeatedly asserted his confidence in Mr. Gonzales, a longtime adviser, as criticism has mounted over the dismissals of eight United States attorneys.
But his statement on Monday was his first direct comment about Mr. Gonzales since the attorney general appeared before the committee, and it was at considerable odds with an overwhelmingly critical assessment of his testimony by members of both parties. It indicated that Mr. Bush, at least for now, has concluded his attorney general can weather the challenge to his leadership at the Justice Department, barring any evidence of wrongdoing.
Perhaps what we witnessed yesterday was in fact a tour de force, a home run for the president's overarching theory of the unitary executive.While he was not saying very much he was telling the Senators that they don't matter. They have no power over King George - he is "the decider" and what they think really doesn't matter.
The theory of the unitary executive is a radical vision of executive power in which the president is the big boss of the entire executive branch and has final say over everything that happens within it. At its core, the theory holds that Congress has very limited authority to divest the president of those powers. An expanded version of this theory was the legal predicate for the torture memo: "In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president's ultimate authority in these areas. … Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."
If you watch the Gonzales hearing through this prism (and in this White House, even the bathroom windows look out through that prism), they were a triumph. For six impressive hours, the attorney general embodied the core principles that he is not beholden to Congress, that the Senate has no authority over him, and that he was only there as a favor to them in their funny little fact-finding mission.
Consider how Gonzales rebuffed Republican Sen. John Cornyn when he suggested a future Senate hearing about the convictions of two Texas border patrol officers. (That's executive branch business, son.) Consider the attorney general's inability to explain why Kyle Sampson pushed ahead with a plan to do away with Senate confirmation for U.S. attorneys, if as he claimed, Gonzales didn't approve it. (That's between me and the president and Kyle Sampson, son.) Consider Gonzales' skirmish with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer over who bore the burden of proof at the hearings. (How can there be a burden of proof when you have no authority to sit in judgment over me, son?) And listen to him tell Republican Sen. Charles Grassley: "I'm here to provide what I know, what I recall as to the truth in order to help the Congress help to complete the record."
There may be some truth to that but I still believe that like his boss Alberto Gonazales is an incompetent moron.