Bye Bye Fredo
The arsonist has left the building.
With the White House still using Fred Fielding to fight every congressional attempt at getting full disclosure on the firing of federal prosecutors, Alberto Gonzales’ departure as Attorney General over the weekend makes one ask the immediate question “Why now?” Gonzales allegedly told Bush of his plans to resign Friday, but was asked to hold off until after he met with Bush at Crawford over the weekend. During that time, both Gonzales and Bush kept both the Department of Justice and the White House staff in the dark about the impending announcement, as both rejected any notion that Gonzales was quitting. But once again, the question is “Why now?”
As for replacements, as the Times notes, it will come down to who wants the job and who can be confirmed, notwithstanding Chuck Schumer’s way premature support for any replacement. (Why doesn’t Schumer simply get a sign saying “Doormat” and hang it around his neck?) Clearly, it won’t be Michael Chertoff because he is one step away from a congressional investigation over his mismanagement of the Department of Homeland Security, and Harry Reid will oppose him no matter what amount of knee padding Schumer will do for him. And White House anti-terrorism coordinator Francis Frago Townsend is a nonstarter because 1) she looks like a deer caught in the headlights, and 2) she also can’t even do her current job adequately. That leaves former Ashcroft deputies Larry Thompson and James Comey, both of whom would be fine choices, and yet neither would leave high-salaried posts in the private sector to come back and fight with Congress for the next 18 months for an Executive Branch that wants court challenges everywhere to run out the clock. And besides, any person of quality would demand assurances of independence that neither Bush nor Cheney would ever give, so there you go.
Still, imagine the glee Gonzales felt Friday morning when he woke up. He could take comfort in knowing that he batted .500 in the only two assignments he had from Rove when he was installed in 2005: Yes, thanks to Josh Marshall, Gonzo failed somewhat to use the DOJ as a partisan prosecutor to disenfranchise Democratic voters and undo the Voting Rights Act. But he succeeded in using his position to stop any investigation of the White House until late in the term, when Fielding could stall everything out until 2008 and after. And Gonzales could marvel at how well he decimated Justice and cleared it out of capable people, all for the ultimate good of protecting Bush.
So with Karl heading back to Texas to the six-figure lecture circuit on the perils of a Clinton democracy, Fredo thought his work was done as well. The department was in shambles; the Democrats had already taken impeachment off the table and through their plodding and inept messaging were presenting no real threat. So why not leave now? It’s not as if he had anything else on his plate, and he can take solace that Mitch McConnell saw nothing wrong with his service, and blamed his problems on a poisonous partisanship. With friends like those, why not hit the road and head home to plan for the Bush library?
Perhaps he can even take some memory improvement classes.
Update: Some more things for us to think about. First, when the US News blog entry came out late Friday, Michael Chertoff's name was already out there, and now there are reports already that Bush would name his friend Clay Johnson III as Director of Homeland Security. If you want to know how bad this would be, think of "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie."
Assuming that Chertoff would be confirmed through Leahy's Judiciary Committee, which he won't be, a Johnson appointment would require Joe Lieberman's committee to buy off, but that won't happen. Why? Because guess who would get a star-making moment to stop Johnson? Barack Obama, who is on Lieberman's committee.
Second, the Chertoff trial balloon may simply be the cover for another strategy, which is to install Solicitor General Paul Clement in the slot as Acting Attorney General for months, knowing that by doing so it neuters his ability to investigate the attorney firings and respond to Congress impartially. And if Bush keeps Clement in the job for months, and then never nominates anyone in 2008 for the remainder of his term or nominates another loser, he ties up Congress with Clement or perhaps another recess appointment next year to stall out the clock.
I leave you with one last thought on this, expressed elsewhere as well. Harry Reid has 40 votes to filibuster a bad pick, using the insistence that the next AG be independent, committed to the law and not another GOP hack. Reid doesn't need the Nelsons, Mary Landrieu, Mary Pryor, Claire McCaskill, or any of the other Bush bootlickers to make up a 40-vote firewall, and re-establish the right messaging and recover from the FISA and war vote fiascos. And as gtash notes in the "Comment" thread, Democrats have some leverage over Clement, in that they have already requested of him the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to fully investigate the federal prosecutor firings. If Clement now punts or refuses that request, they can tar him as nothing more than a continuation of a cover-up.
The Democrats have been handed an opportunity here to insist on an independent and rule-of-law AG, who can repair Justice. Will they take advantage of this, or will they blow it? We'll know soon enough it if appears that Schumer and others line up too quickly behind Chertoff or another bad pick. And if that happens, we can publicly write off this Senate Democratic leadership and send them a message with our wallets and our faxes.