Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Short of Perjury? Try Impeachment!

washingtonpost.com: By Ruth Marcus

I find myself in an unaccustomed and unexpected position: defending Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. ...

In his Senate testimony last week, Gonzales once again dissembled and misled. He was too clever by seven-eighths. He employed his signature brand of inartful dodging -- linguistic evasion, poorly executed. The brutalizing he received from senators of both parties was abundantly deserved.

But I don't think he actually lied about his March 2004 hospital encounter with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. I certainly don't think he could be charged with -- much less convicted of -- perjury. ...

Congress deserves better than technically correct linguistic parsing. So the bipartisan fury at Gonzales is understandable. Lawmakers are in full Howard Beale mode, mad as hell at Gonzales and not wanting to take it anymore.

But perjury is a crime that demands parsing: To be convicted, the person must have "willfully" stated a "material matter which he does not believe to be true."

The Supreme Court could have been writing about Gonzales when it ruled that "the perjury statute is not to be loosely construed, nor the statute invoked simply because a wily witness succeeds in derailing the questioner -- so long as the witness speaks the literal truth" -- even if the answers "were not guileless but were shrewdly calculated to evade."

Marcus dismisses calls for a special prosecutor, arguing:
Rather, lawmakers need to concentrate on determining what the administration did -- and under what claimed legal authority -- that produced the hospital room showdown. They need to satisfy themselves that the administration has since been operating within the law; to see what changes might guard against a repetition of the early, apparently unlawful activities; and to determine where the foreign intelligence wiretapping statute might need fixes.

That's where Congress's focus should be -- not on trying to incite a criminal prosecution that won't happen of an attorney general who should have been gone long ago.

It's impossible to know from this vantage (without access to classified information) whether Gonzales could be successfully prosecuted for perjury. It doesn't, and shouldn't, follow that his apparent efforts to deceive Congress (not to speak of the American people), and to frustrate its oversight role, is not deserving of impeachment. Writers for the Washington Post all too often seem caught up in their technical admiration for virtuoso examples of how the Washington game is played; perhaps it is time to just say no to BS at this level, and throw the bums out. This is not a game; people's rights--and lives--are at stake; and we rejected the divine rights of Kings, and Presidents, long ago. Perhaps it's time for another reminder, since the lesson seems to have been lost on this Administration.

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