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Gauging Gonzales

A Justice Department investigation into the attorney general's testimony to Congress should get to the truth.

September 06, 2007

Alberto R. Gonzales will soon be gone from the Justice Department, but he won't be forgotten. Glenn A. Fine, the department's respected inspector general, has agreed to a request by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) that Fine "investigate and evaluate potential misleading, evasive or dishonest testimony" by Gonzales about, among other things, the firing of U.S. attorneys and disagreements within the Bush administration over electronic surveillance.

Does this amount to beating a dead horse that (to mix metaphors) is almost out the barn door? No. While Gonzales' excruciatingly belated resignation is welcome, it doesn't answer legitimate questions about whether and to what extent he misled Congress. Answers to those questions would be illuminating regardless of whether they laid the groundwork for a perjury investigation of Gonzales, which some Democrats want a special prosecutor to conduct.

Fine, a career official and former federal prosecutor, will bring a professional's objectivity to the politically charged investigation. And unlike Gonzales, he has credibility with Congress. He is best known as the author of a scathing report about the FBI's repeated failure to follow procedure in the issuing of "national security letters" that allow the agency to obtain business and telephone records without a court order, a practice made easier since enactment of the USA Patriot Act. Deliciously, among the Gonzales statements Leahy has asked Fine to scrutinize is the attorney general's comment that he was unaware of problems with national security letters before Fine's report.

It may emerge from Fine's investigation that Gonzales was confused and clueless in his testimony to Congress, but not deliberately deceptive. In either case, his departure should not deprive the American people of some honest answers.

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