I Have "Full Confidence"
Bill Long 4/21/07
The President's Kiss of Death
Whenever President Bush expresses his full confidence in someone from his administration who is the target of attack, you can assume that the person won't be around very long. Recall the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August/September 2005. Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was under attack for his slow, inconsistent and incompetent handling of the relief effort. President Bush visited the Mississippi Coast, the scene of so much destruction, and praised Brown for doing a "great job." A week later, he was history. Then, in November 2006, after the stunning mid-term elections, where Democrats gained control of both Houses of Congress he abruptly fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the same man whom he had praised the week before and said that he would be in the post for the rest of Bush's term.
Now, in April 2007, two more of Bush's appointments or buddies are in trouble: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. Both are in trouble for different kind of reasons than either Brown or Rumsfeld. Gonzales has displayed a particular ineptness in administrative matters and Wolfowitz has allowed personal considerations (i.e., a relationship with a woman) to cloud his judgment at the Bank. Both men have received unqualified plaudits from the President; I predict that both of them will be gone within a week.
The "Case" of Alberto Gonzales
With Democrats in control of Congress, Congress is no longer a supine institution--simply ignoring the men behaving badly in the Administration. So, the abrupt termination of employment of 8 US Attorneys (the "voice" of the US Department of Justice in the 93 jurisdictions around the country) in Dec. 2006 would not just "go away." I think if the "R's" were still in control, the issue would not have become "an issue." But since the "D's" now control the Congressional agenda, Gonzales and his staff were asked a reasonable question: why were these 8 people summarily fired? Was it "performance-based" or, as most began to believe and now all believe, simply a result of wanting people who were more "in tune" with the Administration's agenda in place? Well, as things usually work out, a person is not exposed or embarrassed for something they do but usually for the way that they cover up that thing or try to explain it.
So it is here. The crucial fact that seems to have sunk Gonzales is his inability to explain his role in a Nov. 27, 2006 meeting in which the termination of the US attorneys was decided. In fact, Gonzales doesn't even remember attending the meeting. An obviously distressed US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), about the most natural ally a Republican Attorney General could ever have, asked with growing disbelief, "You mean to say that you don't remember attending such a crucial meeting that took place only a few months ago?" Gonzales, for his part, decided to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 4/19 (Thurs) without notes. He was no doubt trying to imitate John Roberts' stellar noteless performance in the Fall of 2005 before this same committee but there was only one problem: Alberto Gonzales is no John Roberts. He couldn't remember anything, while Roberts remembered just about everything.
Gonzales has painted himself into a familiar corner for administrators of large organizations. On the one hand, if he admitted that he had a major role in the firing of the eight, he would have to show the "paper trail" of evaluations, warnings, discussions and, finally, dismissals of these attorneys. He didn't do this and, to make matters worse, didn't even respond to a letter sent him by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) to explain in writing the reasons for the firing. If I were Specter, I would be hugely angry at Gonzales for basically kissing off a potential ally. So, Gonzales didn't take the "I'm in charge" approach, because it would have gotten him nowhere. Well, the other approach, which he was exploring, got him into just as much hot water. This other approach may be called the "I delegated it" approach. This has the virtue of allowing him to hide behind the lack of paper trail and his faulty memory, but it brings on another problem--that the AG in dealing with his most important employees in the field, had no idea what was going on. Firing of these people is not something that you just delegate to people without your "buy in" on it. I think, actually, there was no "buy in" by Gonzales because, in fact, he wasn't calling the shots. The White House was. Well, he is history because of being caught in this bind and because of his complete ineptitude in trying to explain his situation. That the President said yesterday he has full confidence in Gonzales means absolutely nothing or, better said, means that he hasn't yet decided to fire him.
Wolfowitz presents a different problem. This ambitious neo-con architect of the Iraq War was obviously interested in expanding his portfolio when Bush appointed him to be President of the World Bank in summer 2005. A recent New Yorker article tried to "soften" Wolfowitz's ideological rigor by talking about his humanitarian leanings and social conscience, but no amount of special pleading on his behalf will save him now. Why not? Well, his initial appointment wasn't greeted by the Bank's Board with much approbation, but he has especially brought unwanted attention on the Bank by ordering a bank employee to promote his girlfriend and World Bank employee, Shaha Riza, to a higher salary and then find employment for her in a "no-work" job in the US Government outside of the Bank. This was all done without the approval of the Bank's Ethics Committee.
Wolfowitz has recently reluctantly admitted to his role in this rather sordid affair, but still is resisting calls for his ouster. A special committee appointed yesterday by the Bank's board will, no doubt, tell him that he is history. He just hasn't yet gotten the hint. The Bank wants to be a major player in the world's economy without drawing this kind of attention to itself. I think the Bank is feeling now like the New York Times was feeling a few years ago when revelations came out about how one of its reporters, Judith Miller, was used by the Administration to promote its version of the Iraq War. It became its motto: "All the News that's fit to Print." It didn't want that.
This has been a particularly bad month for accomplished Caucasian and Hispanic males in their 50s and 60s. Don Imus is history; Michael Nifong (of the Duke lacrosse case) will soon be disbarred. Now we have Wolfowitz and Gonzales on the way out. Too bad for all. Most of us in our 50s hope that we can end our careers, eventually, with honor, at the top of our game...