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Loyalties Contributed to Gonzales’ Fall

Posted Aug 28, 2007 5:52 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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When President Bush addressed reporters yesterday about the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, he focused on the attorney general’s critics, saying they had dragged Gonzales' good name through the mud for political reasons.

He praised Gonzales as a "a man of integrity, decency and principle," and said he was instrumental in shaping the administration’s war on terror, both as White House counsel and attorney general.

A New York Times analysis suggests that it was Gonzales’ implementation of the administration’s war on terror, rather than his critics, that helped lead to his downfall.

Gonzales advocated a strong executive to fight terrorism, backing policies largely pieced together by Vice President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser, David S. Addington. The vice president advocated using surveillance and interrogation techniques without congressional acquiescence, the Times writes. It was up to Gonzales to carry out those policies.

“His dogged and sometimes robotic defense of the president’s wartime powers—in the face of congressional pressure, adverse court rulings and public scorn—often proved ineffectual or counterproductive,” the Times says. The theme of broad presidential powers “would become Mr. Gonzales’ mantra and, ultimately, by alienating lawmakers who accused the administration of overreaching, it would contribute to his undoing.”

The Washington Post’s analysis pointed to the president’s emphasis on loyalty in his administration and “the damage that can be done when loyalty becomes paramount in presidential decision-making.”

On the one hand, the president’s loyalty to Gonzales led him to keep the attorney general in the job past the point of his effectiveness, critics told the Post. On the other, Gonzales' loyalty to the administration resulted in charges of politicization at the Justice Department.

The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) also emphasized loyalty and the problems it caused. "In fights ranging from executive privilege to global warming, the Bush administration has run into trouble as it tried to keep control within a tight and loyal coterie of executive-branch political appointees," the newspaper said. "It was at the Justice Department where the policy hit the wall."

Legal Times’ coverage of the resignation includes a look at U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who will be serving as acting attorney general until a replacement is found. Clement is a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia who has a reputation as a “nimble litigator,” the legal newspaper says.

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