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The Portland Press Herald (Maine)

This Is How The Train Goes Completely Off The Tracks

Theo Stein

Good news: U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has pledged to get to the bottom of the ruckus over the firing of well-regarded Republican U.S. Attorneys who may or may not have been canned for doing their jobs impartially.

If the embattled AG finds out that any of the decisions were motivated by, say, a desire to interfere with public corruption cases involving Republicans, "there will be swift and decisive action," Gonzales told NBC.

However, the attorney general's fact-finding mission (not to mention lawmakers') may have been complicated Monday when Monica Goodling, his former senior counsel and White House liaison, had her lawyers announce she would invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(Wait -- isn't that what people do to avoid lying under oath about a criminal act? If everything was above-board, why would she need to do that?)

Goodling's move may be good for her, but since suspicion revolves around allegations that the White House was involved in firing this select set of prosecutors, it just about guarantees that Congress's constitutional showdown with the president over adviser Karl Rove's testimony won't be over soon.

Bush's loyalty to Rove is perhaps even stronger than his belief in the principle that the Office of the (War) President answers to no man, woman or lawmaker. But with newly released e-mails suggesting Rove had a role in the plan to replace "underperforming prosecutors" with "loyal Bushies," the political genius the president fondly calls "Turd Blossom" continues to smell less and less like a flower.

Lucky for Alberto then, that his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson -- he who resigned as the debacle gained momentum -- has agreed to talk to the Senate. Sampson is apparently prepared to defend the view that the attorney firings are a "mundane pseudo-scandal."

But he's also prepared to say that Gonzales not only discussed the firings when he was White House counsel, he was "aware of the whole arc of the process" as attorney general.

Since Gonzales has already told Congress he was out of the loop, Sampson's tale poses a wee problem. That's why Gonzales took to the television to be "more precise" about his role.

What he told Congress before was, perhaps, misunderinterperated. He knew about a plan to fire prosecutors. He didn't know why these eight prosecutors were being fired, yet he's completely confident that he decided to fire them for legitimate reasons. And it pains him that the American people question this assertion in light of the fact that -- wait for it -- there's no documentary evidence definitely proving the contrary.

Let's see: The fired California prosecutor was about to subpoena two Republican contributors in a follow-up to the Duke Cunningham corruption scandal. The New Mexico attorney got heat from two Republican lawmakers for not indicting Democrats suspected of taking kickbacks in time for the election. The guy in Washington State angered the White House by refusing to probe the 2004 governor's election, won by a Democrat. The Arkansas prosecutor was shoved aside for Turd Blossom's toadie.

Yet Gonzales assures us that the integrity of the Justice Department is secure. Soon, he'll swear he has no idea what the meaning of the word "is" is.

In other justice-related news, FBI director Robert Mueller, whom Gonzales oversees, admitted to Congress Tuesday that his agency "erred" by abusing its authority under the Patriot Act to collect information on Americans without judicial oversight.

Weren't we assured, during the Patriot Act debate, that its extraordinary reach would be carefully exercised? "What I did not do and should have done is put in a compliance program to be sure those procedures were followed," the FBI chief said.

Walter Reed. Katrina. The Iraq campaign. Can't these guys do anything right?

No, and that's the point, gleeful liberals and progressive bloggers are saying. The Bush administration's mighty implosion is the logical, inevitable result of entrusting ideologues who abhor government with the responsibility of governing.

It's like handing the keys to your new car to a demolition derby champ and wondering what the heck happened when your ride comes back missing its bumpers.

Conservatives would have a tough time arguing government is the enemy of the people if Republicans actually made it work, they argue. Thus, this snarky take goes, Bush has been an extraordinary success.

Count me among those who are hard-pressed to accept the notion that conservatives live in an upside-down world where spectacularly incompetent governance is a mark of success.

But these cowboys sure make you wonder, don't they?

Theo Stein is an editorial writer for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and can be contacted at 791-6481 or:

© 2007 Portland Press Herald

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