Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman and resident media hound Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) knows an opportunity when he sees it. Especially if it warrants two, count ‘em two, separate press conferences in just one day to embarrass the White House.
In typical Schumer fashion, he’s making a federal case out of well, a federal case.
Over the weekend, news reports revealed that senior White House officials had recommended that all 93 U.S. attorneys (who serve at the pleasure of the President) be fired. Eight were eventually dismissed. On Tuesday, Schumer commandeered the Senate Radio and TV Studio twice to rail against the firings which he characterized as part of a larger “dark cloud” hanging over the administration.
Meanwhile, at the Department of Justice Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales admitted that “mistakes were made,” but said he would not resign.
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.) released e-mails to the press on Tuesday that showed the firings had been planned by the White House and the DOJ for at least two years.
Schumer insisted Gonzales step down immediately. “This has become about as serious as it gets,” he told reporters in his morning press conference.
Schumer made three demands. First, he said that Gonzales must resign. Then, he asked that Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former Deputy Atty. Gen. Kyle Sampson (who resigned over the weekend) testify before Congress. Schumer is also calling on President Bush to “clarify his role in this whole matter.”
Conservative Republicans knew what a nightmare it would be when President Bush put Harriet Miers on track to testify before Congress as his Supreme Court nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor.
Luckily, they precluded the sorry scene by forcing the President to withdraw the nomination. Now, more than a year later, it looks like we are going to see Miers in an even worse role. Instead of trying to defend her knowledge of the Constitution, she’ll be defending every legal decision she’s made since taking the White House counsel’s job. Bank on it: the Democrats will go ugly early. And she’ll get no defense from Republicans. Neither will Gonzales.
Even Republican Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), who bravely carried water for the White House amid conservative outrage over Miers’ SCOTUS appointment, isn’t defending her or Gonzales on this one. Of the controversy he said, “Appearances are troubling. The Executive branch owes it to Congress to be forthcoming when Congress asks for information and this has not been handled well.”
The former judge morbidly joked, “But, in Texas we believe in having a fair trial and then the hanging.”
Schumer’s counterpart Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman John Ensign (R.-Nev.) didn’t presume Gonzales’ innocence either.
The GOP message man said the firing of Nevada U.S. Attorney Dan Bogden had been “completely mishandled.” Ensign told reporters, “The deputy attorney general — in the conversations that I had — he was either ill-informed about the whole process or [he] intentionally misled. One of the two.” As a result Ensign said, “I was either intentionally misled or somebody was misinformed or unaware of the complete process. It seems to be the latter.”
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) has not called for Gonzales’ resignation but promised he would hold “very specific hearings” about the firings.
“I feel that the answers have been held back that should not have been,” he said. “It’s been frustrating and it makes me quite angry.”
With no apparent Republican defense on Capitol Hill for Gonzales Democrats are eager to score some political points by conducting long, oversight hearings on the DOJ. This will have the byproduct of providing Chuck Schumer with even more free publicity.
Almost gleeful with the prospect of this, Schumer took yet another television camera hostage late Tuesday afternoon. On MSNBC Schumer conceded: “You can certainly fire a U.S. Attorney for no cause or for good cause.”
This was the first mention Schumer made of the President’s right to fire his attorneys between his Sunday appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, his two Tuesday conferences and his afternoon spot on MSNBC.
U.S. attorneys are generally replaced by presidents either en masse or individually.
But, Schumer couldn’t just give away those sorts of details. If he said that at the first press conference, what would keep the media coming back for more?