Saturday, July 23, 2005
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the President might regard a vacancy on the Supreme Court as an opportunity to reward one of his political cronies, but it does seem curious that John G. Roberts, a minor cog in the Republican party's Florida 2000 machinations, should earn his shot at the bigs before longtime Bush buddy Alberto Gonzales. One explanation, offered by Frank Rich in tomorrow's NYT, is that now is not the most propitious time for Mr. Gonzales to be answering questions under oath:
When the president decided not to replace Sandra Day O'Connor with a woman, why did he pick a white guy and not nominate the first Hispanic justice, his friend Alberto Gonzales? Mr. Bush was surely not scared off by Gonzales critics on the right (who find him soft on abortion) or left (who find him soft on the Geneva Conventions). It's Mr. Gonzales's proximity to this scandal that inspires real fear.
As White House counsel, he was the one first notified that the Justice Department, at the request of the C.I.A., had opened an investigation into the outing of Joseph Wilson's wife. That notification came at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2003, but it took Mr. Gonzales 12 more hours to inform the White House staff that it must "preserve all materials" relevant to the investigation. This 12-hour delay, he has said, was sanctioned by the Justice Department, but since the department was then run by John Ashcroft, a Bush loyalist who refused to recuse himself from the Plame case, inquiring Senate Democrats would examine this 12-hour delay as closely as an 18½-minute tape gap. "Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence," said Senator Charles Schumer, correctly, back when the missing 12 hours was first revealed almost two years ago. A new Gonzales confirmation process now would have quickly devolved into a neo-Watergate hearing. Mr. Gonzales was in the thick of the Plame investigation, all told, for 16 months.
Thus is Mr. Gonzales's Supreme Court aspiration the first White House casualty of this affair. It won't be the last.