What Gonzales needs to be asked
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This is a guest post from Kargo X at Daily Kos .
We know from advance looks at Alberto Gonzales' prepared testimony and his newspaper articles that he plans to testify today that no U.S. Attorneys were fired for "improper" reasons, and indeed nothing "improper" happened at all.
Here's the thing: Given how often we've been reminded that U.S. Attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the president," Gonzales needs to be asked whether, in his opinion, it's even possible for such a dismissal to be "improper" at all.
Back in February 2006, Gonzales clashed (in)famously with Sen. Russ Feingold, in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee. In Feingold's own discussion of the hearing, he told us:
I reminded the Attorney General about his testimony during his confirmation hearings in January 2005, when I asked him [18.4MB video file] whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law. We didn't know it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, when the Attorney General was White House Counsel. At his confirmation hearing, the Attorney General first tried to dismiss my question as "hypothetical" before stating "it's not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes." Yesterday, he tried to claim [25.6MB video file] that he had told the truth at that hearing, bringing the parsing of words to new lows. I think it is clear that the Attorney General misled the Committee and the public not only about the NSA wiretapping program but about his views on presidential power.
But I don't think it was parsing. I think it was misleading, but not parsing. Here's how I saw it:
Not only is he saying that no law can be passed that infringes upon the president's "inherent authority," he is saying that he told the truth in his confirmation hearings because he believes the surveillance programs do not violate the law because they cannot violate the law.
That's why he regarded Senator Feingold's question as a hypothetical. Because it was and is his assumption that no program initiated by the president in furtherance of the national security could be in violation of the law.
hat is, it is a resurrection of the infamous Nixon doctrine, revealed in Nixon's 1977 interview with David Frost:
Frost: "So ... what ... you're saying is that there are certain situations ... where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal."
Nixon: "Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal."
Frost: " By definition."
Nixon: "Exactly, exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security ... then the president's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating a law."
Understood in this context, for Gonzales to say nothing "improper" happened is simply a non-answer. We deserve to know from America's top law enforcement official whether or not he believes that there is any law he would feel compelled to enforce against the President of the United States.
Amazingly, we've never actually had a clear understanding of what Gonzales' answer to that question would be. Even more amazing, however, is the fact that we've arrived at the point in this country where that question even needs to be asked.