Gonzales & the 'Mayberry Machiavellis'
Watching the painfully inept testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales brought to mind the memorable comment in 2002 by ex-White House insider John DiIulio, who described how politics dominated everything in George W. Bush’s government.
“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” said DiIulio, who had run Bush’s office of faith-based initiatives. “What you’ve got is everything – and I mean everything – being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”
The American people are finally waking up to the consequences of what DiIulio observed during his one-year stint on the inside. Everything is about the building and maintenance of power, not via sound policies but through political tactics – ranging from the conduct of the Iraq War to the handling of federal prosecutors. [For more on DiIulio’s comments, see Ron Suskind’s Esquire, January 2003, article.]
It would be unthinkable in a traditional administration for a White House political adviser, like Karl Rove, to have a direct role in such diverse topics as blowing the cover of a covert CIA officer and the firing of U.S. Attorneys. Those were two areas that traditionally were walled off from crass partisanship.
For obvious safety reasons, there were strict rules limiting distribution of CIA identities even among officials with proper security clearances. Because of the life-and-death risks involved, those identities were revealed only on a strict need-to-know basis.
Nevertheless, political guru Rove was brought in on the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame in summer 2003 as part of a Bush administration campaign to discredit her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for challenging the President’s use of a bogus claim about Iraq obtaining uranium from the African country of Niger.
Rove was a source on Plame’s identity for both right-wing columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper. Yet, if you factor out politics, there was no conceivable need-to-know for Rove to have been briefed about Plame.
Almost as astonishing is that Rove would have passed on complaints to Attorney General Gonzales about three U.S. Attorneys for not bringing indictments in cases of alleged “voter fraud” involving Democrats.
Gonzales testified that Rove lodged the complaints last fall, but the Attorney General insisted he was unsure of many other details.
“There was a conversation where Mr. Rove mentioned to me concerns that he had heard about [federal prosecutors not] pursuing voting fraud, election fraud in three jurisdictions: New Mexico; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as I recall,” Gonzales said.
“My recollection was that it was in the fall of 2006,” he said. “I don’t recall where that conversation took place and I don’t recall either whether it was a phone conversation or an in-person conversation.”
Gonzales added that at another meeting – which he dated as Oct. 11, 2006, less than a month before the Nov. 7 elections – President Bush “relayed to me similar concerns about pursuing election fraud in the three jurisdictions.”
Similar pressure on New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was coming from Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, Republicans of New Mexico. But Iglesias refused to rush the cases, which prompted a call from Domenici to Gonzales. The Attorney General cited that call as a factor in firing Iglesias a month after Democrats won control of Congress.
Gonzales’s nonchalance about these inquiries seeking stepped-up indictments against Democrats suggested that either White House political pressure on law-enforcement issues is quite common or the Attorney General is even denser than he appeared to be in his Senate testimony on April 19.
Gonzales said the complaints about U.S. Attorneys from Bush and Rove left him unsurprised when the same names showed up on the Justice Department list of seven U.S. Attorneys who were to be removed on Dec. 7, 2006.
Despite the mass firings – unprecedented in the midst of a President’s term – Gonzales appeared only vaguely familiar with the justifications for removing the U.S. Attorneys. He acknowledged, for instance, that he did not check their official job evaluations before he rubber-stamped the firings.
The hazy genesis of the dismissal list has led Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and other Judiciary Committee members to suspect that the list was mostly instigated by the White House to oust U.S. Attorneys who were deemed not “loyal Bushies,” the description used by Gonzales’s former chief of staff Kyle Sampson.
Although the Justice Department initially denied that Rove and other White House officials sought the firings, one of Sampson’s e-mails revealed that the idea for the dismissals originated with former White House counsel Harriet Miers and that Rove’s office was pushing to replace the Little Rock U.S. Attorney with a Rove protégé.
The larger picture appears to be that the Bush administration is still subordinating almost everything – from longstanding traditions on prosecutorial independence to the protection of intelligence officers – to President Bush’s political needs.
As the Republican congressional majority slipped away last fall, Rove and Bush looked for a silver bullet to turn the GOP’s fortunes around. A few well-timed indictments of Democrats at least might have blunted the impact of Republican corruption cases, such as Randall “Duke” Cunningham of California and Bob Ney of Ohio.
Gonzales, Bush’s longtime confidant and former White House counsel, was surely aware of the President's worries and could not have missed the political significance of the “voter fraud” complaints from Bush and Rove. Yet, the Attorney General acted in his testimony as if he were oblivious to the importance that the White House put on the elections.
The White House obsession with politics at the expense of nearly everything else would not have surprised John DiIulio. It would have been par for the course for Karl Rove and the other “Mayberry Machiavellis.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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