End-game of a tormented presidency has begun
BY JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
Not since the latter days of Richard M. Nixon have we had so clear a spectacle of arrogant politicians bumbling into fatal mistakes and poorly planned and executed cover-ups as George W. Bush administration is now providing, day by day.
How strange that an administration that took such pride in putting up a seamless wall around the White House and marching in lock-step, all reading from the same script and spinning in one direction, has come to this.
What should have been a simple matter of replacing a handful of U.S. attorneys - seven of 93 political appointees - now threatens to devour a presidential buddy of long standing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
So far it is not so much about what was done but what was said by Gonzales and others in an attempt to hide the real political reasons for firing the prosecutors.
Gonzales, who has lawyered for Bush since he was governor of Texas, seems unlikely to survive long enough to keep his mid-April date with the congressional committees to explain his actions and his Justice Department aides' misstatements, misinformation, denials and flat-out lies on the issue of the dismissal of those prosecutors.
One of those aides has hired a veteran Watergate lawyer to defend her and promptly announced that she'll be hiding behind the 5th Amendment to avoid self-incrimination when she returns to Capitol Hill.
Gonzales' own chief of staff resigned when the scandal began brewing and will testify Thursday before Congress, perhaps to the sorrow of his former boss and former colleagues at both Justice and the White House.
Justice has released three batches of e-mails on the discussions leading up to firing the prosecutors, but, in another Nixonian coincidence, there is an unexplained 16-day gap in the e-mail traffic. Nixon, by contrast, left only an 18-minute gap in his secret tapes.
The Democrats who control Senate and House Judiciary Committees have voted authority to their chairmen to subpoena key White House aides including political wizard Karl Rove to testify under oath about the prosecutor firings and the reasons for the action. President Bush offered them up for private, closed-door "conversations" with the nosy Democrats. No transcript and no one sworn to tell the truth.
The president threatens a court fight over executive privilege while telling the country that no administration has ever allowed White House aides to testify under oath before congressional investigators, which is, itself, another large misstatement.
The wheels began falling off the Republican wagon with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which put one GOP congressman and a high-ranking Interior Department political appointee behind bars.
Then came the bribery case of Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham and his resignation and imprisonment. One of the fired prosecutors was pursuing an indictment of a high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency official in that case.
Then there was the trial of Scooter Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and his conviction on perjury charges arising from sworn testimony before a grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. Libby's appealing his conviction and praying for a presidential pardon.
All of this is a token of much more still to come as President Bush and his closest aides endure the death of a thousand cuts in their final 21 months in power.
For six long years the Republicans had it all their way, with control of the White House and both houses of Congress. There was no oversight to speak of; no one asking pesky questions about the routine incompetence and breath-taking mismanagement of everything from the war in Iraq to the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Now, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the president's approval ratings down around his shoe tops, the end-game of a tormented presidency has begun.
George Bush can draw lines in the sand, make imperious declarations of defiance and issue orders to Congress but he better be buying Band-Aids by the carload.