Bush Chooses Legacy Over Gonzales
George W. Bush's sled got a little lighter Monday, as he tossed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales from it. The sacrifice of what Bush called a "talented and honorable person" will not keep the wolves from pursuing the administration. But it could slow them down a little.
Once famous for his loyalty to subordinates, Bush is now showing himself very capable of jettisoning the ones who create too much controversy.
Bush is desperately seeking to shape his legacy in the last months of his presidency, and he is taking down those lightning rods who have attracted too much negative attention.
Donald Rumsfeld is gone, and Karl Rove is going. Alberto Gonzales will soon follow, and few tears will be shed — except the crocodile variety — at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
In a recent interview with The Politico, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., put his finger on what eventually would doom Gonzales.
"I can't imagine why a president who has any interest in his place in history, why he wants this to be his mark on law enforcement and the justice system," Leahy told me. "Why does Bush want (Gonzales) to be what he is remembered for?"
Bush and Gonzales have long been linked.
The first words that Gonzales spoke at his very brief resignation announcement Monday morning were, "Thirteen years ago, I entered public service ..."
What Gonzales did not say was that all of those 13 years were spent under the patronage of George W. Bush.
Gonzales went to work for then-Texas Gov. Bush as his general counsel in 1994. Bush then appointed him to the post of Texas secretary of state and then to the state supreme court.
When Bush became president, Gonzales followed him to Washington as general counsel, and it was widely believed Bush was grooming him to become the first Latino justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Conservatives complained that Gonzales was "squishy" on abortion, however, and Bush made Gonzales his attorney general to get seasoning and establish his conservative credentials.
In the end, however, disdain for Gonzales and his conflicting statements to Congress became so widespread that it superseded even partisanship.
No fewer than six Republican senators called upon Gonzales to resign.
Why did Gonzales last as long as he did?
Because while his resignation solves one problem for the administration, it creates another: Democrats may withhold their approval of any new attorney general who does not pledge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Gonzales and other members of his Justice Department.
And after the Scooter Libby debacle, a special prosecutor is the last thing the administration needs.
Or second to last, rather.
Gonzales' behavior elicited widespread contempt from powerful lawmakers of both parties, the exact people the administration needs to continue the funding of the war in Iraq and pass any legislative agenda Bush might still have.
As Sen. Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told me: "Gonzales gives me the impression that he is someone to whom telling the truth does not come naturally. I don't trust him. I told him that, and I have never said that to a Cabinet member, even some highly partisan ones."
Last month, seven Democratic congressmen announced their support for a resolution that would have paved the way for the impeachment of Gonzales. And while convicting Gonzales in the Senate, which would have required a two-thirds vote, may have been impossible, the administration decided that Gonzales was a burden it could not continue to bear if it wanted to accomplish anything on Capitol Hill.
"I think the key is whether or not he has the confidence of the president, and he clearly does," Dick Cheney said in late July.
But that was then, and this is now. And now Congress is about to return from vacation.
"It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons," Bush said Monday.
Which is very loyal.
But, in the end, Bush decided that his legacy to history was far more important than his loyalty to Alberto Gonzales.
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