Greencastle, Ind. – Speaking to reporters at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, President Bush said early this week that Democrats in Congress are engaging in “pure political theater” by preparing resolutions of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Saying his friend had done nothing wrong in dismissing nine U.S. attorneys, which is at the core of Mr. Gonzales present difficulties, Mr. Bush sarcastically derided those urging his dismissal as “actors on the political theater stage.”
Political theater? I’ve always thought of that as something a little less serious, as when the self-styled “Yippie,” Abby Hoffman, stood above the New York Stock Exchange and floated a couple of $100 bills down onto the trading floor, watching America’s financial business come to a halt as the traders scurried around scooping them up.
Abby was the master of the craft. During the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, he taunted Mayor Richard J. Daley by announcing that he would put LSD in the city’s reservoir and turn on all of Chicago. Without a clue about how much LSD this might take, Daley bit, ringing the entire reservoir with cops. Then Hoffman drew up plans that purported to show how he had connected the sprinkler system in the convention hall to the water flushed from the bathroom toilets. FBI agents poured over the plumbing.
That’s great political theater.
But to get back to Attorney General Gonzales, who has no memory whatever of being involved in firing the U.S. attorneys, the next act in his show was Wednesday, when one of his top deputies testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
Monica Goodling, who had tried to avoid this day by taking the Fifth Amendment, testified under a grant of limited immunity, meaning that if she told the truth she would not be prosecuted. Flanked by three lawyers, Ms. Goodling allowed as how she was paying them herself, but would soon establish a political defense fund.
The lawyers prepared her well. In her opening statement, Goodling admitted she had gone too far in using political litmus tests to approve candidates for jobs in the Justice Department. Asking party affiliation and whom they had voted for, to candidates for civil service as well as political jobs, she crossed the line of legality.
She did Gonzales no favors by contradicting his sworn testimony that he had no role in the firings, citing inaccuracies in his public accounts and saying he attended the critical meeting on the matter. She also admitted that Gonzales had tried to align her upcoming testimony with his own.
After that, Ms. Goodling did the job her lawyers trained her to do, admitting to nothing more than having the worst memory in Washington this side of Gonzales himself. Her answers: “I can’t be sure,” “I don’t remember,” “I don’t know,” “I can’t estimate,” “I have conflicting memories at this point,” “I couldn’t say,” “I can’t think of an example.” She admitted she may have gone too far in asking African-Americans about their political pedigrees, but couldn’t estimate if the number involved was more than 50 applicants or less.
One of the themes of the day was whether Sen. Pete Domenici had transgressed with phone calls to one of the now-fired U.S. attorneys, putting pressure on him to proceed with a vote fraud case. Rep. Dan Issa of California made it clear he saw nothing wrong with that, telling the committee that he had complained about his U.S. attorney, Carol Lam, to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, to Gonzales and to President Bush. Lam was fired.
Listening to Goodling for a full day of testimony, the C-SPAN viewing audience might have come away with a net information loss. But you did get the unavoidable impression that this beautiful young woman with her long, golden tresses was somebody’s tool in the administration’s efforts to populate the Department of Justice with “loyal Bushies.”
There was, indeed, some political theater in all this. Republicans were scripted to record what a fine job Ms. Goodling was doing. One GOP member charged that she was being dragged before the committee only because she was a good Christian.
At this point, let me atone for an error in last week’s column. Writing just at the time of Rev Jerry Falwell’s death, I mistakenly said Monica Goodling had graduated from the school he founded, Liberty University. Actually, her law degree was from Pat Robertson’s school, Regent University. I apologize.