While Congress has yet to issue formal contempt citations for Bush administration officials, there's no doubt that contempt in the old-fashioned sense -- scorn, disdain, distrust, and disgust -- is exactly what they feel for the current attorney general.
"The department is dysfunctional. . . . Every week a new issue arises. . . . That is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General. . . . The list goes on and on. . . . Is your department functioning? . . . What credibility is left for you? . . . Do you expect us to believe that? . . . Your credibility has been breached to the point of being actionable."
And that was just from the top Republican on the committee, Arlen Specter (Pa.). Democrats had to scramble to keep up with the ranking member's contempt.
If there is any man who, when neck-deep in a hole, has so gleefully wielded a shovel, he would have to be... well, just about any other member of the Bush administration. But in Gonzales's case, he didn't just dip down another few feet in his testimony yesterday, he cut through the bedrock and got right down to the sneering core.
Leahy asked if Gonzales would block prosecutors from prosecuting contempt-of-Congress cases. "I'm not going to answer that question," the witness answered.
"Do you think constitutional government in the United States can survive if the president has the unilateral authority to reject congressional inquiries?" Specter pressed.
"I'm not going to answer this question."
As for Gonzales' testimony that he went to harangue the hospitalized Ashcroft at the urging of the "Gang of Eight," there are other versions of those events from one of the "gang members."
But it's not just Mr. Comey's word against Mr. Gonzales's when it comes to aspects of this matter. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), who was ranking minority member on the Senate intelligence committee in 2004, told The Post's Dan Eggen and William Branigin that he was surprised by Mr. Gonzales's description of a meeting earlier on March 10, 2004, involving top lawmakers on the intelligence committees. Mr. Gonzales testified that there was consensus among lawmakers of both parties that the intelligence program in question should not be allowed to lapse and that Mr. Ashcroft should be informed about that consensus. Mr. Rockefeller told The Post that there was no such agreement. Mr. Gonzales is "once again . . . making something up to protect himself," said Mr. Rockefeller, who is now chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.
Tom Daschle, another member of the "gang," was even more forceful in pointing out the holes in Gonzales' testimony.
"I am quite certain that at no time did we encourage the AG or anyone else to take such actions," Daschle said in the statement in response to reporters' questions.
The recollections of both men leave little doubt that Gonzales attempted to protect himself by tossing lie on top of lie. This statement alone should be enough to prove to any observer that we have an attorney general whose interest in the truth is nonexistent. That's a pretty shaky foundation on which to build a justice system.
To columnist Andrew Cohen, the whole testimony was so twisted, it passed into the surreal.
No reasonable person watching Gonzales' tragically comedic performance Tuesday's on Capitol Hill-- especially his miserable exchange with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in late morning-- can any longer defend his appalling lack of competence, courage and credibility. And no one who hears him say that he is what's best for the Department right now should forget that on the eve of his testimony (and a few days after he urged his subordinates to work diligently to regain their morale) the nation's top law enforcement official reportedly left work early to go for a bike ride Monday afternoon-- at about 3:50 p.m.
I am running out of words to describe how inept this public servant is and how awful is the message our government sends to the nation and to the world by allowing him to continue to represent us.
Congress holds Alberto Gonzales in contempt, as well it should, but in the case of the attorney general it shouldn't bother with issuing any contempt citations. Neither should they feel it necessary to seat a special prosecutor when the clearest crimes Gonzales has committed have occurred on the floor of the House and Senate.
Every day Alberto Gonzales continues to peddle away the last vestiges of respect for the Justice Department, and for the whole justice system, is a day too long. There is no remedy but impeachment, and no time like the present.