Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blowing Down Doors


Yet another dispiriting revelation from Alberto Gonzales' hearing today.

During Gonzales' last hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) questioned him about a memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002 that had substantially increased White House officials' access to information about Justice Department cases. Under Clinton, only four White House officials had been authorized to discuss pending criminal investigations or cases with only three top Department officials. Ashcroft's 2002 memo had blown the door off that arrangement, raising the number of officials who could discuss such cases from seven to 447 (417 on the White House side). Under Whitehouse's questioning, Gonzales had professed to have been "concerned about that as White House counsel.”

Apparently not so much.

Whitehouse questioned him today about a May, 2006 memo which Gonzales himself had signed while attorney general. You can see it yourself here.

The memo widened White House access to case information even more and seemed to have been crafted with special attention to enabling the Vice President's staff, specifically his chief of staff and counsel, to have the unambiguous authority to discuss ongoing cases with Department officials. Given Cheney's chief of staff David Addington's extraordinary reach into the Justice Department (and the prosecution of Cheney's former chief of staff), that's cause for a raised eyebrow.

Gonzales seemed to have been taken off guard by Whitehouse's questions:

Whitehouse: "What-on-earth business does the Office of the Vice President have in the internal workings of the Department of Justice with respect to criminal investigations, civil investigations, and ongoing matters?"

Gonzales: "As a general matter, I would say that's a good question."

Whitehouse: "Why is it here, then?"

Gonzales: “I’d have to go back and look at this.”

"The memo that has your signature makes it worse," Whitehouse said. As Whitehouse plowed on, Gonzales admitted of his own memo, "I must say I'm troubled by this." Gonzales cautioned, however, that he didn't know whether officials from the vice president's office had indeed taken advantage of such access.

Whitehouse ended by observing that it was difficult to take seriously Gonzales' promise to "restore the Department of Justice," seeing as how he'd apparently worked to help make the Department vulnerable to politicization.

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