A recent Newsweek column entitled Behind the Surveillance Debate delivered some disturbing news: President Bush ran his latest surveillance effort through the secret FISA court and it was rejected. In an effort to once again work around the existing FISA system, the President is seeking emergency legislation that grants him more power to continue with the program.
Despite the FISA court's rejection, Democrats seem ready to grant Bush some limited latitude to continue with the program, barring one sticking point: The President is demanding that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's role be expanded to allow him to oversee the program.
Did anyone else's head just spin around a few times?
It seems Bush wants the man who currently has the largest public credibility problem in the United States to oversee a highly sensitive surveillance program that includes the monitoring of phone calls coming through the United States. The same program that failed to cut the mustard in the secret federal court set up to protect our rights.
Gonzales is facing calls for his resignation even from some Republican members of Congress. He may be facing an impeachment investigation shortly, and he is accused by some of lying to congress and putting party politics and loyalty to the President above his duty to the American people.
Is this a man the American people can trust to not spy on them with such a program?
First, the Democrats need to grow a backbone and reject his request for more power. Bush needs to live with the FISA ruling. The FISA Act is there for one reason, to protect the American people. If the FISA court ruled against this program then the program contains features that violate the rights of American citizens.
Second, this latest development once again raises questions about Bush's relationship with Gonzales.
The media's usual explanation for Bush's steadfast support of Attorney General Gonzales is simple loyalty. The longer this drama goes on, however, the less the simple loyalty explanation rings true.
The Bush administration is now facing a situation where high-level administration officials are contradicting one another, where long-term Justice Department employees are risking their careers to speak against Gonzales, even Republican lawmakers are explicitly questioning Gonzales's ability to do his job, and some important members of Bush's conservative base are asking him to fire Gonzales.
Both personal loyalty, and an unwillingness to concede defeat to the Democrats, only go so far. Eventually, both face a point of diminishing return, and arguably, that point is behind us. Therefore, we need to consider the likelihood that neither explanation is applicable here.
Why then, does President Bush continue to stand behind Alberto Gonzales? Why doesn't he just end this mess by letting Gonzales go?
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Gonzales is willing work outside the system in order achieve Bush's agenda, and is willing to evade investigations that try to uncover these activities.
In other words, if one is seeking to fulfill an agenda by any means necessary, having a man in like Alberto Gonzales on board is indispensable. This is the reason Bush refuses to let Gonzales go.
Gonzales past actions and statements make it easy to arrive at this conclusion.
Questions about Gonzales's truthfulness regarding Bush's conduct or policies have been raised for more than a decade. According to the Washington Post:
Questions about Gonzales's willingness to shade the truth on Bush's behalf came to prominence in the 1996 episode in which Bush was excused from Texas jury duty in a drunken-driving case. Bush was then the state's governor, and Gonzales was his general counsel. If Bush had served, he probably would have had to disclose his own drunken-driving conviction in Maine two decades earlier.
The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney involved in the case have said that Gonzales met with the judge and argued that jury service would pose a potential conflict of interest for Bush, who could be asked to pardon the defendant. Gonzales has disputed that account. He made no mention of meeting with the judge in a written statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Since then, plenty of new questions have arisen about Gonzales. There have been allegations of politically-motivated impropriety surrounding the firing of US Attorney's, there is Gonzales's denial of constitutional habeas corpus during Senate testimony, and there are accusations of an improper, sneaky attempt to get a woozy and ailing Attorney General Ashcroft to sign off on a surveillance program the Administration knew he rejected.
Unfortunately, Gonzales has answered legitimate questions about these events in ways that are contradictory to his own previous statements, or to statements by others involved in those events, raising even more questions and accusations of lying to congress.
The American people deserve truthful and complete answers to the questions asked of Gonzales, especially on matters where there are no national security concerns.
By failing to provide these answers, Gonzales has proven himself to be an individual that puts the political agenda of his boss above his duty to the American people.
Those in the mainstream media who continue to site Bush's personal loyalty as the rationale behind his support of Gonzales need to start asking tougher questions and dig a little deeper on behalf of the American people.
Is there reason to suspect that Gonzales knows things about the aforementioned items of concern which may be let out of the bag if he were replaced, and which would be damaging to senior members of the Administration? This seems very likely.
Congress needs to continue to demand of Mr. Gonzales that he answer these questions, and they must proceed with legal actions that will force him to do so.
In the meantime, the American people need to demand of their lawmakers that Mr. Gonzales is not given any expanded powers that allow him to oversee programs that may conceivably be used for political purposes and infringe upon the civil rights of American citizens.
Mr. Gonzales has simply proven himself unworthy of our trust.