On December 7, 2006, seven United States Attorneys were dismissed by President George W. Bush (R). This has spun into a controversy because many political opponents of the president believe the attorneys were fired for political reasons. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Even if they were fired for political reasons, the president can fire his appointees for any reason he sees fit—whether political, personal, performance-related, or silly (e.g., ‘he wears green ties too often’). Further, under Executive Privilege, the president and his staff can refuse Congress’s requests that they explain themselves—internal affairs of the Executive Branch are none of Congress’s business.
But—whether he had to or not—Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did talk to Congress, specifically to the Senate Judiciary Committee, about the attorney firings and about the Bush Administration’s wartime domestic wiretap program. Now there are questions about whether Gonzales misled Congress, or even perjured himself, in his testimony. White House documents obtained by Congress and testimony by other members of the Bush Administration seem to contradict some of Gonzales’s testimony, and this is the making of a real scandal (unlike the manufactured ones he was being questioned about).
Of course, when presidents or their high-ranking cabinet members and staff need to be investigated for crimes they may have committed, an independent special council must be appointed (as the Justice Department, headed by Gonzales himself, would be faced with a severe conflict of interest performing this kind of investigation). That is why I support the appointment of a special council to investigate Gonzales’s testimony and, if he has committed any crime, bring appropriate charges.
The fact that Gonzales was being questioned largely about issues that Congress had no business wasting their time on is irrelevant. President Bill Clinton’s (D) sex life should never have become the subject of a federal investigation either, but lying while being questioned under-oath about anything is a felony. Clinton committed perjury, and as a felonious perjurer he should have been removed from office. Likewise, if a special council investigation reveals that Gonzales lied to Congress under oath, he should be prosecuted for the crime and removed from his position as well.
Memo to Republicans: if you are going to claim the high road, it requires that you apply the same rules to yourselves that you apply to the opposition party. This means investigating suspected perjurers of your own presidential cabal the same way you did with the Democrats in the 1990’s (and, preferably, not commuting their sentences when they get convicted).
UPDATE: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced his resignation, effective September 16. While this does not excuse his potential perjury, and an investigation should still ensue, this is a step in the right direction.