Monday, August 27, 2007

Bush and Gonzales

Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation this morning, finally succumbing to the reality that he has lost the trust of the Congress, lost the trust of the Justice Department, and lost the trust of the American people. President Bush is very nearly the only person who still thought Gonzales was doing a heckuva job. Bush had some remarks about Gonzales' departure, which we will misquote below the fold.

Bush reluctantly accepted the resignation of his "really, really close friend," saying that Gonzales' "muddy name was dragged through the water, but it still wouldn't come clean." The attorney general "endured far better treatment than he deserved," but the matter "created harmful distraction at the Justice Department." It is, in the words of the President, "sad that we live in a time when an untalented and dishonorable person is impeded from impeding important work," which is especially sad for an untalented and dishonorable President. Gonzales himself described public service as "honorable and noble," although his own performance was dishonorable and venal.

The legacy Gonzales leaves behind will take years to erase, even once competent, honorable, law-abiding people come to the helm at Justice. Gonzales has worked tirelessly to curtail the Constitutional rights of the American people, to diminish America's reputation for fairness and justice on the world stage, and to tarnish one of the great institutions of our government. Warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention, torture, and politicized justice — not to mention lying to Congress about all of the above — will be the things for which Alberto Gonzales is remembered, far more than for being the first Latino A.G.

The question is, what now? In a just world, Alberto Gonzales would return home unable to get a job fighting parking tickets, much less doing any real legal work. Of course, since we don't live in a just world, Gonzales will undoubtedly trot off to a cushy job at some think tank, clipping his toenails for a six-figure salary, hoping to return as a lobbyist once everyone has forgotten his disgrace — in other words, around the time that global terrorism completely ceases. In the mean time, though, who will replace Gonzales at Justice?

The interim replacement is Solicitor General Paul Clement, and there have been rumors that Michael Chertoff (head of Homeland Insecurity, boss of the head of FEMA, who did just as much of a heckuva job after Katrina as Brownie did) might be tapped, but I would suggest that neither person is likely to be nominated as full-time Attorney General, for the simple reason that Bush would then have to appoint someone to fill that vacancy. He wasn't looking forward to one confirmation fight; he certainly won't want two. The obvious logical choice is John Yoo, an obscure Berkeley law professor who is the architect of much of the legal theory behind the Bush Administration — specifically the idea that, paraphrasing rather than misquoting Yoo, "No treaty, no Act of Congress, not even the Constitution itself, can limit the President's power as Commander in Chief." In other words, to quote Nixon, "if the President does it, it's legal." John Yoo said — no joke — that the President has the power to order the torture of children if that is what he alone deems necessary to protect the nation.

Of course, if John Yoo is nominated for Attorney General, we should expect to see scenes much like the reaction to President Musharraf's attempt to dismiss Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. In other words, you'll have lawyers rioting in the streets. Yoo's odds of being confirmed by the Senate are worse than the odds that Osama bin Laden will pledge undying loyalty to Israel. That means that the only way Yoo becomes Attorney General is through a recess appointment. The President has the power to make a temporary appointment to a position that normally requires Senate confirmation, but at this late stage in Bush's term, that "temporary" appointment would last for the remaining 511 days before we get a new President.

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