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Editorial: Gonzales takes work home

Editorial: Gonzales takes work home

Former attorney general violated federal secrecy rules for classified information

Maybe it doesn’t matter that John McCain had met Sarah Palin just once, and knew little about her, when he chose her to be his running mate. George W. Bush knew and had worked closely with Alberto Gonzales for many years when he made him his attorney general, and look what that got us — torture, warrantless wiretaps, a thoroughly politicized Justice Department and, now, grossly mishandled classified documents.

Note the use of the possessive before the term “attorney general” above. For that seemed to be a large part of the problem with Gonzales during his tenure. He was previously Bush’s general counsel as governor of Texas and White House counsel, and continued to act like that, rather than as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. When Bush wanted to justify an unjustifiable policy, whether it was torture of "enemy combatants" or illegal eavesdropping, Gonzales was always there with a memo or argument in support.

He would probably still be attorney general if not for the political hirings, and his failure to be honest about them or much of anything else in testimony before various congressional committees. In response to nearly every question, he would cite a faulty memory or say he didn’t know the answer, or didn’t know what was going on in his own department. After awhile it became a farce — even Republicans on the committees got frustrated and angry — his credibility was shot, and eventually Bush had to cut him loose.

And now, deliciously, we learn that the man who said it was a dire threat to national security when The New York Times revealed the existence of the administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program in December 2005, and suggested the reporters who wrote the story could be prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act, was himself taking home highly classified documents and storing them insecurely. Gonzales’ lame excuse was that he didn’t know they were classified, even though he had received briefings on what is and what is not classified, and had written “Top Secret” on the envelope holding some documents. Those documents pertained to — guess what? — that super-secret wiretap program.

For similar actions, President Clinton’s former national security adviser, Sandy Berger, was fined $50,000 and sentenced to two years of community service and probation — as part of a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid a jail sentence. However, Gonzales will get away with it because some former underlings at the Justice Department’s National Security Division declined to prosecute. One could say, he’s either a liar or incompetent. But it’s possible to be both.

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