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The Imperial Attorney General

Rather than being steadfastly loyal to the law, Attorney General Gonzales seems to let his loyalties rest only with the president.

In an editorial entitled, “The Failed Attorney General,” The New York Times wrote Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has “never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency.” Recounting the constitutional abuses that have taken place under Gonzales’ watch, the Times urged Bush to ”dismiss Mr. Gonzales and finally appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution.” Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Gonzales “has been even more political than his predecessor, Attorney General Ashcroft.” “For the sake of the nation,” Schumer said, “Attorney General Gonzales should step down.” Schumer isn’t alone in his concerns. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) — who last week expressed his hope that there will soon be “a new attorney general” — conceded yesterday that “there have been a lot of problems” at Gonzales’ Justice Department. A conservative adviser to the White House told The Washington Post, “This attorney general doesn’t have anybody’s confidence. It’s the worst of Bush — it’s intense loyalty for all the wrong reasons. There will be other things that come up, and we don’t have a guy in whom we can trust.”

  • Under Gonzales, the Bush administration has moved to curtail the independence of prosecutors. A daily drip of new reports surrounding the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department has shown that there was “a bald attempt to undercut the independence of prosecutors through tactics that included calling them at home, pressuring them to help Republican candidates, and threatening to punish them for speaking about the firings.” This weekend, more evidence came to light showing that Gonzales has been carrying the water for the White House political operation. New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh said he complained about fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to the White House in 2005 and again to Karl Rove personally in 2006. Weh asked that Iglesias be removed because he was not indicting Democrats. Weh said Rove assured him: “He’s gone.” The White House acknowledged last night that Rove served as a “conduit for complaints” about prosecutors, delivering instructions to a compliant attorney general.

  • The FBI has repeatedly breached regulations to demand information in national security cases. The Justice Department released an Inspector General report last week showing “pervasive errors in the FBI’s use of its power to secretly demand telephone, email, and financial records in national security cases.” The audit “found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations.” Gonzales had known about the report for three weeks before its public release. The breached national security reporting requirements were precisely the same provisions Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a “signing statement” as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act’s renewal into law.

  • The Attorney General has gone on record sanctioning the use of torture in interrogations. The litany of abuses documented by the Times includes the fact that “the attorney general helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture.” While serving as White House counsel, Gonzales helped set the course for the interrogation policy against detainees by yielding legal control to others, “particularly Vice President Cheney’s influential legal counsel, David S. Addington.” In an attempt to justify depriving Guantanamo detainees of their rights to challenge their convictions, Gonzales has opined, “There is no express grant of habeas corpus in the Constitution.” He has blamed the administration’s poor track record of convicting Guantanamo detainees on legal challenges filed by Gitmo lawyers in the courts. And he has helped usher in a new legal regime that provides the president sweeping new powers under the Military Commissions Act “to arrest and detain non-citizens — and possibly citizens as well — either here or abroad, including individuals who are not engaged in armed conflict against the United States — and to hold them indefinitely without charge.”