WHY ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES SHOULD GO

'MISTAKES WERE MADE' IS TOO PAT AN ANSWER

OF COURSE ALBERTO GONZALES should resign.

A quintessential yes-man to the president who justified the use of torture and argued that the president didn't have to follow federal wiretapping laws, he never should have been confirmed as attorney general in the first place.

In two years, Gonzales has not grown into the office, as exhibited by his laugh-out-loud, "mistakes were made" response yesterday to revelations that the White House has been involved for two years in a plan to remove U.S. attorneys while usurping the Senate's power to confirm replacements.

Gonzales would have us believe that he didn't have a clue that his own chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, had been working with former White House counsel - and onetime Supreme Court nominee - Harriet Miers to "push out" and "get rid of" U.S. attorneys who had been "targeted" for dismissal. The White House yesterday turned over e-mails and internal documents to that effect.

Gonzales apparently thinks members of Congress won't remember how he first ignored questions about the firings, then dismissed them as "an overblown personnel matter."

All of this may have worked before, when the Republicans were in charge. Those days are over - and the controversy is proliferating.

Any credibility left at the Justice Department has been obliterated and that has chilling implications for the nation - and Philadelphia.

Richard Sprague, attorney for state Sen. Vince Fumo, has served notice that he will use evidence of "politicized federal investigations" as a defense against his client's 250-page, 139-count indictment.

Sprague had pointed to a study by two retired professors showing that Democratic political officials were four times more likely than Republicans to be indicted by Bush-appointed federal prosecutors. The study buttresses other evidence that the fired attorneys were targeted because, in the eyes of the Bush administration, they were too hard on Republicans or too easy on Democrats.

So an apparent attempt on the national front to target Democrats could have the unintended consequence of bolstering the defense or otherwise affecting high-profile cases like uber-Democrat Vince Fumo's. For that alone, Gonzales should lose his job.

There's another disturbing aspect to this story: yet another, previously unknown power grab by the executive branch, made possible by a dysfunctional legislative process. There's a local angle here as well.

An aide to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who was until January chairman of the Judiciary Committee, slipped a provision into conference committee version of the U.S. Patriot Act in late 2005 that stripped the Senate of its power to confirm replacements. Senators - including Specter himself - voted for the bill, not knowing what was in it.

An e-mail from Sampson to Miers released yesterday showed that he was very aware of the provision and eager to use it - something his boss denied to Congress. Under oath.

It's clear that, as usual, the Bush administration has chosen to stonewall, so it's up to Congress to act. It must pass a bill restoring its power to confirm U.S. attorney replacements. It also must demand answers, under oath, from everyone implicated in this affair, including the fast-talking attorney general.

As U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., put it yesterday, the time of "see no evil, hear no evil" is over. *

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