Monday, April 23, 2007

Gonzales did so badly it was actually kind of weird

No doubt it is just paranoia, but not long after Alberto Gonzales's disastrous testimony I began to wonder if his performance hadn't been, like, suspiciously disastrous. Could having the AG flame out spectacularly be part of some diabolical Rovian masterplan? What if the White House is figuring that if Gonzales seems completely incompetent and dissembling, this will somehow take heat away from an investigation into Rove and the president...?

That is crazy-talk, though, partly because Karl Rove has not even looked like a master tactician in some years. It's just that the attorney general's testimony was singularly terrible, and with more than a month to prepare, you have to wonder what exactly he we was trying to do with some of his answers.

Dahlia Lithwick's plausible-sounding theory is that Gonzales saw his job at the Senate Judiciary Committee as a matter of defending the unitary executive theory:
The theory of the unitary executive is a radical vision of executive power in which the president is the big boss of the entire executive branch and has final say over everything that happens within it. At its core, the theory holds that Congress has very limited authority to divest the president of those powers. An expanded version of this theory was the legal predicate for the torture memo: "In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president's ultimate authority in these areas. … Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."


If you watch the Gonzales hearing through this prism (and in this White House, even the bathroom windows look out through that prism), they were a triumph. For six impressive hours, the attorney general embodied the core principles that he is not beholden to Congress, that the Senate has no authority over him, and that he was only there as a favor to them in their funny little fact-finding mission.
The White House's interpretation of the unitary executive theory is not just unconstitutional, it's anti-constitutional. Maybe the real reason Gonzales did so badly on Thursday was that by now most Americans, and most of Congress, reject Bush's ideas about his own power.

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