American Progress: Some General Questions For Alberto Gonzales

American Progress Action Fund

Just got my APAF email today. If you aren't signed up for this powerful resource daily, you need to go over and do so. Take a look at this consise summation of the problems with Bush's nominee to replace Goody Ashcroft.

On Wednesday, President Bush nominated his long-time friend and current White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. Gonzales "has been a Bush confidant for nearly a decade." But it's not enough for President Bush to have confidence in Gonzales. As Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) said during Ashcroft's nomination hearings, "not only must the president trust his attorney general, the nation must also trust him, for, after all, the attorney general is America's lawyer." The nation can't trust Gonzales if they don't know where he stands on important issues. To find out his positions, the Senate Judiciary Committee must ask him some tough questions. Here are our suggestions:

DO YOU THINK THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH TORTURE IS LEGAL?: Gonzales was involved in drafting and approved an August 2002 memo to the president which included the opinion that laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants." The memo also said that an interrogation tactic only constituted torture if it resulted in "death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions." In light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, it would be irresponsible to have an attorney general who believes torture is legal.

WOULD YOU INSIST ON STRICT COMPLIANCE WITH THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS?: In a 1/25/02 memo to the president, Gonzales wrote, "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." The Constitution says that when the United States signs an international treaty it is "the supreme law of the land." The attorney general, our nation's chief law enforcement officer, should understand that.

WOULD YOU RECUSE YOURSELF FROM THE VALERIE PLAME INVESTIGATION?: The Justice Department is currently investigating which senior administration official – in violation of federal law – told columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative. Gonzales has appeared before the federal grand jury investigating the case. As White House counsel, Gonzales also advised White House staffers and the president about how to handle the inquiry. As someone who advised potential defendants (and someone who could potentially be called as a witness at trial) it would be highly inappropriate for Gonzales to oversee the investigation.  

WOULD YOU RECUSE YOURSELF FROM ALL ENRON-RELATED MATTERS?: For more than a decade, Alberto Gonzales was an attorney for Vinson & Elkins, the firm that represented Enron. When Gonzales ran for reelection to the Texas Supreme Court, he "received $6,500 in campaign contributions from the company." The Justice Department is currently prosecuting top Enron executives – including former CEO Ken Lay. John Ashcroft recused himself from the Enron investigation "because of contributions he received from the company's executives during his campaign for the Senate." Nevertheless, Gonzales – who had a far more extensive relationship with Enron than Ashcroft – continued to be involved in Enron-related investigations as White House counsel.

WOULD YOU RECUSE YOURSELF FROM ALL HALLIBURTON-RELATED MATTERS?: The Justice Department has launched three investigations of Halliburton: for allegedly overcharging the military $61 million for fuel, for allegedly bribing Nigerian officials to win a contract, and for allegedly doing business with Iran through an off-shore subsidiary. Halliburton was a major client of Vinson & Elkins while Gonzales was a partner at the firm. In 1999, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales accepted a $3,000 contribution from Halliburton just before the court was to hear an appeal of a case where "a Halliburton employee had won a $2.6 million trial verdict" against the company. Gonzales did not recuse himself.

WHY DIDN'T YOU GIVE GOV. BUSH ALL THE FACTS ABOUT DEATH PENALTY CASES?: As chief legal counsel for then Gov. Bush in Texas, Gonzales was responsible for writing a memo on the facts of each death penalty case – Bush decided whether a defendant should live or die based on the memos. An analysis of these memos by the Atlantic Monthly concluded that "Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence." In the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded 33-year-old, Gonzales's memo "failed to mention that Washington's mental limitations, and the fact that he and his ten siblings were regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts, were never made known to the jury."

See what I mean about the APAF memos? Consise, extensive, and powerful. You might want to drop them a nickel while you're there.

It's incredible, isn't it, that Bush nominates someone who will have to recuse himself from so many pressing cases in the Justice Department today...unless the Bush administration plans on easing the urgency of these cases in the first place. Then the nomination of Gonzales makes perfect sense.

However, it seems that the best course for Senate Democrats is to raise these questions, make his answer a matter of public record, and then allow his nomination to proceed. They should vote against this heinous nomination as one, absolutely. But they should save the filibuster for the Supreme Court nominees that matter. Filibuster may be the only tool that Democrats have since Orrin Hatch destroyed decades of senatorial tradition in his naked desire to obstruct Clinton's judicial nominees and grease the path of Bush's. But it's still a weapon that should be used strategically.

As we've learned this election season, a consistent (or consistently explainable) voting pattern against these bullies and tyrants will be the best defense come 2006 and 2008. Air the Bushian dirty laundry, vote against it, and in 2006 we can run against the greater mess that Bush will leave.