Gonzales Target of Perjury Probe
As the sorry spectacle of the investigation into the firing of a dozen U.S. Attorneys for political purposes has unfolded, it’s been rather clear that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been both an incompetent administrator of his Department and a really bad liar, doing a lousy job of covering up something that almost surely didn’t need to be covered up. His testimony to Congress on the matter has been incoherent, contradictory, and, at best, disengenuous. He should have been fired long ago and President Bush’s insistence on sticking by him is baffling.
Oddly, however, Senate Democrats are now seriously pursuing a perjury probe over what seems, on the surface at least, among the least significant contradictions in his testimony and one that would be the hardest to prove. The dispute over which classified intelligence program was briefed to Congress three years ago strikes me as trivial. The smoking gun documents which allegedly contradict his testimony don’t prove much of anything.
Moreover, as unpopular as this administration is, the politics of this make little sense. This matter is incredibly complicated and convoluted, owing to the classification and technical nature of the programs in question, the long timeframe over which all this has evolved, and the intermingling of so many other issues. Indeed, having read the major news stories on the latest charges this morning, I’m not sure I quite understand them. And I’ve been paying far, far more attention to this than Joe Public.
While I think the Imperial Presidency charges are overblown, there’s not much doubt that the administration’s penchant for secrecy and claim to be the sole decider on matters of national security policy stretch the concept of checks and balances beyond recognition. Congress is right to fight back as an institution jealous of its own power; indeed, my guess is that would be happening even if the Republicans had retained the majority. This particular hill, however, seems a strange choice upon which to make that stand.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum and, especially, Steve Benen disagree. I remain unconvinced that the differing post-hoc recollections by two officials about which classified intelligence program a particular meeting was about rises to the level of perjury.