Thursday, December 11, 2008

Specter's Curious Hindsight On Alberto Gonzales

I'll be the first to admit that out of all Senate Republicans, Arlen Specter (R-PA) was arguably the hardest on then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during Gonzo's lengthy period of ignoring the Constitution, lying to Congress and serving as George W. Bush's personal water boy.

Even so, it's still a bit jarring to hear Specter on the Senate floor yesterday discussing his concerns about Barack Obama's nomination of Eric Holder to be the next head of the Justice Department, while spilling his honest assessment of Gonzales's time as Attorney General -- for which Specter was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee most of the time.

Here's Specter on Wednesday:
The position of Attorney General is an extraordinarily important position. We have seen that during the administration of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, stated candidly, the Department was not well handled. That is a candid statement and also a very mild statement.

During the course of Attorney General Gonzales' tenure, there were so many situations where the Attorney General molded his views to accommodate his appointer, the President of the United States. A great deal that went on in the Department of Justice was partisan and not in the interests of the work of the Department or in the interests of the American people.

We have seen, since 9/11/2001, a vast extension of Executive authority. We found the terrorist surveillance program was initiated by the President without consultation under the tradition of notifying the chairman, which I was during the 109th Congress, or the ranking member. We found there was an engagement with the telephone companies to engage in electronic surveillance, again without notifying the chairman or ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and without notifying the intelligence committees of both Houses, as mandated by law. Further was the expansion of signing statements all during the tenure of the Attorney General.
OK, so while he did give Gonzales some high-profile spankings during a few hearings in 2007, Specter was chairman of Judiciary -- the primary Senate oversight arm for the Justice Department -- for the vast majority of the 2 1/2 years that Gonzales served, until Bush's Boy resigned under fire in September of 2007.

During that time and through all of the Constitutional abuses and outright lying to Congress that occurred, Specter did seem to stand up and be counted occasionally but still, if he knew at the time just how bad Gonzales's tenure really was, why wasn't he storming the Republican Majority Leader's office to get greater action in the name of our national interest?

Indeed, when the Senate tried to hold a no-confidence vote on Gonzales (S.J.Res.14) on June 11, 2007, the Republicans filibustered it and 38 of them -- including some guy named Lieberman -- kept the resolution from even coming to a vote.

Sure, Specter voted to allow the no-confidence resolution to move forward, but where was his voice and impact on his own party (as the Senator best able to speak on Gonzales) if he couldn’t keep almost every Republican Senator from blocking the vote entirely?

While Albert Gonzales ran roughshod over our national creed, Specter said a lot of words about the horrible -- if not criminal -- job Gonzales was doing, but had very little action to back it up.

So with Specter now ranking member on a Judiciary Committee chaired by the able Patrick Leahy (D-VT), we'll see just how strident the gentleman from Pennsylvania is with Eric Holder and if he suddenly develops more passion, influence and righteous indignation than he did for one of the most rogue Attorney Generals in U.S. history.