Who Will Replace Gonzales?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales smiles during one of lighter moments as he is questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee on whether President Bush, and others in the executive branch, acted illegally in permitting domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 6, 2006. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
AP Photo
This column was written by Benjamin Wittes.
Alberto Gonzales is toast. He apparently doesn't realize this. President Bush doesn't either. But Gonzales' tenure as attorney general — or, at least, as an effective attorney general — is already over. Every day he fails to resign he disserves Bush, the Justice Department, and the public at large. Every day Bush lets loyalty to his old friend prevent him from demanding Gonzales's resignation, he mires himself deeper in an altogether unnecessary scandal. The line that Republican Senators and The Wall Street Journal editorial page have been gamely trying — that the current flap over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys is just a partisan attack by Democrats — won't cut it. This scandal is a self-inflicted wound.

I don't say this with any pleasure. Gonzales is a genial fellow who has been very gracious to me on more than one occasion. I have tried over the past few weeks to view the emerging facts in the light most favorable to him. The trouble is that, approached that way, the facts are still devastating. Even if one doesn't believe that the firings were motivated by improper political considerations, the department carried them out in a manner that indelibly stained them with that reasonable inference. Once Congress and the press got hold of the story, both Gonzales and his deputy, Paul McNulty, made statements about the matter that appear to have been, well, false. And Gonzales then tried to distance himself from the whole thing, lamely taking responsibility — whatever that means — while saying that he wasn't aware of what his former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, was doing. Sampson's testimony Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee contradicted Gonzales on important points.