SINCE the White House (and news outlets) are busy handing out apologies this week, they might want to send some flowers to Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's attorney general, who was cleared Wednesday of charges that he'd politicized the DOJ in the scandal known as "Attorneygate."
Given our short memory spans, here's a brief recap. Toward the end of the Bush administration, the Gonzales-led Department of Justice was criticized for firing a handful of U.S. attorneys over what liberals called "political reasons." (Here's where we insert the word "duh," this being Washington and all.)
Democrats were up in arms about the firing of prosecutors who they maintained had lost their jobs not for legitimate reasons but for their refusal to toe the Bush line. Notable among the firees was David Iglesias, accused of being soft on voter fraud in New Mexico. (He went on to parlay his dismissal into a lucrative career doing books, interviews and op-eds in the New York Times.)
In response to the uproar, which reached a crescendo during the run-up to the presidential election, the Department of Justice in 2008 assigned Nora Dannehy, a career prosecutor, to investigate the firings. Dannehy had a strong history of uncovering official corruption and was viewed by both liberals and conservatives as a straight-shooter.
This was no exception. While acknowledging that the Justice Department was wrong to have fired Iglesias without bothering to get all the facts about the accusations against him (hmm, sounds familiar, White House . . . controversy . . . half the facts . . . pink slip!), Dannehy concluded that no crime had been committed and there was no effort to influence prosecutions, as Democrats had long alleged.
In addition to absolving Gonzales, Dannehy also cleared ex-Sen. Pete Domenici, the New Mexico Republican, although she did note that calling Iglesias and urging him to bring charges in a public-corruption case had the appearance of impropriety. (Insert second "duh.")
In total, nine prosecutors were fired, a number dwarfed by the dozens who had their heads on the chopping block when Bill Clinton took office. I was on a TV panel when the Bush pseudo-scandal broke and mentioned the Clinton legal housecleaning.
The response was along the lines of "but Clinton didn't do it for political reasons." Yeah, and dinosaurs still roam the earth.
The point here is that now, almost two years after George W. Bush left office, we are learning two things: (1) that many of the "crimes" he and his subordinates were accused of committing were simply normal administrative turnover (why should a president accept a U.S. attorney who made his own policy?), and (2) exactly the same thing is happening under new management.
I can't be the only person who thinks it's coincidental that on the same day Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stood at the podium and extended an apology to Shirley Sherrod (forced to resign to help the president save face in an exceedingly awkward situation), a career Justice Department prosecutor not beholden to any administration shows us that the witch hunt against Alberto Gonzales was a politically motivated sham.
THIS ISN'T to say that the Bush years were 99-and- 44/100ths percent pure.
There's no question that a lot of political back-scratching went on under 43, including his ridiculous and indefensible nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. (Her shallow resume made Elena Kagan look like Hammurabi.)
But politics is mother's milk
in D.C., and any attempt to say that only the other guy does it doesn't pass the smell test. (Bill Clinton not political? Ditto for Barack Obama? What a hoot.)
The attacks on Gonzales were in part due to his loyalty to his boss, and his effectiveness at advancing the Bush agenda. Blinded by their hatred for the man who signed off on the so-called "torture memos," liberals were looking for any way to drive a stake through his black heart.
And they thought they had it with the nine U.S. attorneys who didn't like the fact that they got cut from payroll, turning them into martyrs under the bloodthirsty reign of Bush the Evil.
Fortunately, that claim has now been shown for the lie it was. And when you lie about someone, distorting his life's work and calling him criminal - or worse - the least you could do is apologize.
But I don't think Alberto Gonzales should be holding his breath.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.