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"I Don't Recall Remembering" - The Alberto Gonzales Story

December 31, 2008

During April 2007 Senate testimony about his role in the purge of U.S. attorneys, Alberto Gonzales famously explained, "that I don't recall remembering." Now comes word that the former Attorney General is writing a tell-nothing memoir designed to salvage his irreparably damaged reputation. Judging from his interview today in the Wall Street Journal, Gonzales has rediscovered his memory, if not the truth.
Gonzales' self-serving historical revisionism when it comes to rubber-stamping President Bush's illegal NSA domestic surveillance, authorizing the torture of terror detainees and sacking of prosecutors for political purposes begins in jaw-dropping fashion. Complaining to the Journal about the scorn and derision heaped upon him, Gonzales whined:

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?"
"For some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Of course, that self-described "casualty of the war on terror" blessed the torture regime best articulated by then-head of the DOJ's Office of Special Counsel, John Yoo. As Jane Mayer describes in her book, The Dark Side, Gonzales as White House counsel stood by as the Bush administration wiped away Geneva Convention protections and blessed Yoo's definition of torture as necessarily "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."
In his interview with the Journal, Gonzales blames Yoo for the legal basis for waterboarding and other so-called "enhanced interrogation" tactics, asserting "in the end it was the Justice Department's call." Of course, during his January 2005 confirmation hearings for the Attorney General role, Gonzales lied under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee about President Bush's torture policy. Calling Senator Feingold's questions about Bush's commander-in-chief powers "hypothetical," Gonzales claimed the infamous Yoo memo "has been withdrawn." But as the New York Times subsequently revealed, while the Justice Department in December 2004 publicly proclaimed that torture was "abhorrent," the new Attorney General in February 2005 and again later that same year issued secret memos which "provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures."
Gonzales' lies to Congress didn't end there. No doubt, the man who pioneered the Sgt. Schultz defense ("I know nothing. Nothing!") will claim in his memoir "I don't recall" lying to Congress about his role in the Bush administration's purge of U.S. prosecutors. As the Journal noted today:

[Gonzales] admitted to making mistakes in handling the U.S. attorney firings while maintaining that he made the right decisions. He says that while he bears responsibility as former Attorney General that "doesn't absolve other individuals of responsibility."

Among Gonzales' own responsibilities is to own up to his multiple acts of perjury before the United States Congress. At it turns out, Gonzales in 2006 and 2007 lied to Congress about the U.S. attorneys scandal and the warrantless domestic spying program at least three times. The AG's falsehoods included his January 18th, 2007 claim that "I would never ever make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons or that in any way would jeopardize an ongoing investigation" and the deliberate deception that "with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney" despite his aide Kyle Sampson's September 2006 email planning to do otherwise. And on February 6, 2006, Gonzales lied about the conflict with Acting Attorney General James Comey over the renewal of the so-called terrorist surveillance program:

"There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed."

To add insult to injury, Alberto Gonzales today in essence accused Comey of perjury on the matter. In May 2007, Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee of his clash with Gonzales while serving as acting attorney general during then-AG John Ashcroft's recovery from emergency gall bladder surgery. In that capacity, Comey had refused to recertify President Bush's illegal NS domestic surveillance program. On March 10, 2004 Gonzales and Bush chief-of-staff Andy Card went behind Comey's back to pressure an "extremely ill and disoriented" Ashcroft, a man so ill his wife refused him to have any visitors. As the New York Times described it

When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.
"I was angry,' Mr. Comey told the committee."I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper."

But whereas Comey described the stricken Ashcroft as " very, very ill; in critical condition, in fact," Alberto Gonzales painted a much different picture today for the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Comey's characterization of the dispute was "one-sided and didn't have the right context," and gave the impression that he and Mr. Card were attempting to take advantage of Mr. Ashcroft. "I found Ashcroft as lucid as I've seen him at meetings in the White House," he said.

Thus far, Gonzales has yet to secure a publisher for his book. But while the disgraced Attorney General may not have a gift for recollection, he apparently has a gift for fiction.

5 comments on “"I Don't Recall Remembering" - The Alberto Gonzales Story”

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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