Editorial Pages Call for Axing Attorney General

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By: E&P Staff

The New York Times got the editorial ball rolling on Monday, calling for the firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales due largely, if not completely, to the burgeoning scandal involving the forced departure of eight U.S. attorneys. Now the notion has spread across the country.

“We haven’t seen a renegade U.S. Justice Department like this since John Mitchell ran it for President Nixon,” declared the Sacramento Bee. “With a new Congress beginning to exercise serious oversight, the problems at the Justice Department and with its leader, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, are becoming clearer by the day. And what is becoming most clear is that Gonzales must go.”

The Washington Post today implied the same thing. The Los Angeles Times agreed but placed much of the blame on President Bush. The Philadephia Inquirer demanded: “U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should resign. If he ever does, the nation could take it as a clear sign that President Bush finally grasps the need to preserve core civil liberties while guarding against terrorism.”

The Buffalo (N.Y.) News: “He should go. The country needs an attorney general who wants to uphold the law, not subvert it.”

From Florida Today in Melbourne: “He should be removed and replaced with someone willing to protect the Constitution. Chances are Bush won’t do that.”

The Financial Times weighed in: “Mr. Gonzales had every right to sack prosecutors, who are political appointees. But he had no right to mislead Congress about why he did so ? even though he is now blaming lower officals for the misinformation. Mr Gonzales has shown a disdain for Congress and the rights of the American people. He has amply proved that he will never be anything other than Mr Bush?s lawyer ? a mere apologist for the imperial presidency. The affair has already claimed one top scalp at the justice department. It is high time Mr Gonzales stepped down too.”

The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. urged President Bush to take two steps: “First, he should fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Whether Mr. Gonzales is the instigator of this travesty or merely the unprincipled executor of White House political demands, this debacle is further evidence of his insuitability for his critically sensitive post.

“Then, the president can answer this question: If the eight prosecutors were dismissed for failing to respond to Republican political concerns, can Americans assume that his other U.S. attorneys do fulfill a partisan agenda?”

The San Francisco Chronicle: “These latest incidents underscore the obvious: Gonzales must resign. The nation needs an attorney general who can restore confidence in the administration of justice.”

The Bush-friendly Dallas Morning News came close to calling for Gonzales’ exit, but more for the alleged abuse of the Patriot Act revealed in the recent revelations about the FBI. Sen. John Cornyn told Morning News editorial board Monday that he was “disappointed” in Gonzales’ performance, adding that there’s a perception that he has not drawn an adequate firewall between his office and the White House.

“Frankly, we think the problem is real, not a perception,” the newspaper observed. “It demands much more than apologies from FBI Director Robert Mueller and Mr. Gonzales ? starting with tough questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nation’s two top cops should know that aggressive law enforcement and due process aren’t mutually exclusive. If they think otherwise, then they’re not the right individuals for these jobs.”

The Chicago Tribune also falls short of calling for a dismissal for now. But it closes its editorial: “This is a fast-evolving story, with crucial events and motives still to be probed and explained, by the administration and the Congress. As the facts of this disturbing but still incomplete narrative come together, we’re likely as a nation to learn if the answer to the question that opens this editorial is yes or no. If it’s yes, Gonzales should resign. ”

That opening question: “Did the attorney general of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, engineer the dismissals of several federal prosecutors for partisan political reasons?”

Gonzales said at a press conference on Tuesday that he would not quit, although he accepted responsibility for how the attorney layoff was handled.

The Washington Post editorial, “The Story Unravels,” concludes:

“Now that the political costs are higher than the administration could have imagined, now that senior officials have squandered their claim to credibility, it is imperative that the entire story of the firings be uncovered. As we have said previously, the administration is entitled to prosecutors who reflect its policies and carry out its priorities. It is not entitled to treat federal prosecutors like political pawns — nor is it entitled, any longer, to the benefit of the doubt about the propriety of its conduct.

“Mr. Gonzales can make self-serving declarations about his belief in ‘accountability,’ as he did at a news conference yesterday; he can proclaim his plans to ‘ascertain what happened here . . . and take corrective actions.’ Nothing in his record gives any reason for confidence that anything will change in a department under his leadership.”

The Los Angeles Times agrees but also casts its eyes higher:

“It should surprise no one that Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales finds himself in the middle of a growing scandal. But don’t blame him for the lack of principled leadership at the Justice Department. Blame his boss. President Bush appointed a man clearly unqualified for the job.

“We opposed Gonzales’ nomination to be attorney general two years ago, arguing that the nation’s top law enforcement job should go to someone who understands the limits as well as the power of the law, and someone who understands that his loyalty is to the Constitution as much as it is to the president. Gonzales’ atrocious performance as White House counsel, when he enabled far too many shortcuts in the war on terror, was ample reason to disqualify him for attorney general.

“This attorney general is loyal to a fault to Bush. He is too loyal to be an effective lawyer, causing the president harm both when he worked at the White House and now that he oversees the Justice Department.

‘The administration’s broader disdain for legal niceties underlies recent revelations about the abuse of Patriot Act powers to secretly obtain private data about U.S. citizens, as well as the dismissal of U.S. attorneys. In the case of these prosecutors, Gonzales was apparently driven by his desire to continue making himself useful to the president and the party. That’s why his chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, resigned Monday. He was working a little too closely with the White House in orchestrating the ouster of several federal prosecutors late last year….

“The fact that the White House was complaining to the Justice Department that David Iglesias, the well-regarded federal prosecutor in New Mexico, was insufficiently committed to taking up voter fraud cases that Republicans cared deeply about is rather alarming. Alarming, but not surprising ? not so long as Gonzales is attorney general.”

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