In his April 26 nationally syndicated Washington Post column, titled "The Democrats' Gonzales," David Broder equated Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' handling of the controversial dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) recent statement "that the war in Iraq 'is lost' " to opine that Reid, like Gonzales, is "a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance." Yet, in making this comparison, Broder glossed over much of the controversy surrounding Gonzales' role in the U.S. attorney scandal, boiling it down to Gonzales' "serial obfuscation," having "at various times ... taken complete responsibility for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and professed complete ignorance of the reasons for their dismissal." In fact, beyond "obfuscation," Gonzales has made statements in congressional testimony and elsewhere that conflict with other claims he has made as well as with statements by his staffers.
Also, Broder attacked Reid for his comments that the Iraq war "is lost," and claimed that Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-NY) subsequent "clarification of Reid's off-the-cuff remarks" further "confused things," when in fact Reid's and Schumer's comments drew similar distinctions between intervening in the civil war and performing counterterrorism missions. Broder also claimed that "a long list of senators of both parties" is "ready" for Reid's "ineptitude to end" but provided no evidence of any Democrat who holds that position.
As Media Matters for America has noted, Gonzales has repeatedly claimed that the prosecutor firings were due to job performance issues. For instance, during an exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on January 18, after Feinstein pressed Gonzales to quantify "[h]ow many United States attorneys have been asked to resign in the past year," Gonzales stated that he didn't "deny" that, in Feinstein's words, his "office has asked United States attorneys to resign in the past year," and he added: "What we do is we make an evaluation about the performance of individuals, and I have a responsibility to the people in your district that we have the best possible people in these positions." In fact, as Media Matters for America noted, then-deputy attorney general Paul McNulty later contradicted Gonzales' testimony when he stated before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 6 that at least one of the dismissals -- that of H.E. "Bud" Cummins III, who resigned his post in December 2006 -- was not performance-related. Indeed, McNulty testified that Cummins' resignation was forced "to provide a fresh start with a new person in that position." This "new person" was J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to White House senior adviser Karl Rove who replaced Cummins as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Also, The Washington Post further reported on other contradictory statements Gonzales had made regarding Cummins' dismissal, and noted that in his April 19 Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, Gonzales gave "testimony [that] conflicted with his earlier explanations" about Cummins':
His most marked deviation yesterday from an earlier explanation involved an eighth U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins of eastern Arkansas, who was told by Justice officials last June that he would have to resign. He was to be replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, an aide to Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.
For the past two months, Justice officials have seesawed publicly about why Cummins was removed. In early February, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, testifying before the same committee at which Gonzales appeared yesterday, said the Arkansas prosecutor had done a satisfactory job and was removed only to make room for Griffin.
A month later, documents and a Justice spokesman offered a contradictory explanation. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for Gonzales, said McNulty's testimony had "upset" the attorney general, who "believed Bud Cummins's removal involved performance considerations."
Yesterday, Gonzales went back to the original explanation, saying that Cummins "was asked to resign because there was another well-qualified individual that the White House wanted to put in place there, that we supported." Asked whether it was accurate that Cummins had no job-performance problems, Gonzales replied: "I would say that's a fair statement."
Indeed, during Gonzales' April 19 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) asserted that he believed that "most of" Gonzales' explanations of the dismissals were "a stretch," and added: "It's clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House and, you know, we made up reasons to fire them."
Further, Broder accused Reid of engaging in "inept discussion[s] of the alternatives in Iraq;" and asserted that Reid "is not a man who misses many opportunities to put his foot in his mouth." He went on to write that Reid is prone to verbal "gaffes ... bespeaking a kind of displaced aggressiveness on the part of the onetime amateur boxer." As evidence, Broder pointed to Reid's recent comments that the Iraq war "is lost," and mocked Schumer's explanation that the Democrats believe the United States can not win "a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis," so the military should "change the mission and have that mission focus on the more narrow goal of counterterrorism." Replying to Schumer's remarks, Broder wrote:
Not since Bill Clinton famously pondered the meaning of the word "is" has a Democratic leader confused things as much as Harry Reid did with his inept discussion of the alternatives in Iraq.
Yet, during the April 19 press conference in which he stated that "this war is lost," Reid drew the same distinction as Schumer between U.S. involvement in an Iraqi civil war, which both claimed the United States could not win, and counterterrorism operations:
Now, I believe myself that the secretary of State, the secretary of Defense -- and you have to make your own decision as to what the president knows -- that this war is lost and that the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday.
Now, I said this is how I feel. But in addition to my feelings, a majority of the United States Senate, a majority of the United States House of Representatives has said the surge should not go forward. Twenty-nine state legislatures and hundreds of state legislators acknowledge that the war should come to an end. The American people believe that. The Iraq Study Group clearly defined that.
It's time for us to change direction in Iraq, redeploy our troops, as indicated in the supplemental appropriation bill in the House and the Senate that we're soon going to send to the president in the form of a conference report. Redeploy the droops. Does that mean pull them out? No, it doesn't. But it does mean the troops that are there should focus on counterterrorism, force protection and training the Iraqis.
Indeed, as the weblog Think Progress noted, Defense Secretary Robert Gates drew a similar distinction in early February, when he stated: "I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq: one is Shia-on-Shia, principally in the south; the second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad; third is the insurgency; and fourth is al-Qaeda."
Additionally, while attacking Reid for his comments, Broder never noted that recent public opinion polls indicate that a majority of the American people believe the war is unwinnable. For instance, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted April 20-23 found that 55 percent of respondents indicated that they did not "think the U.S. goal of achieving victory in Iraq is still possible," compared to just 36 percent who did. A CBS News poll, conducted April 9-10, yielded similar results: 54 percent of those surveyed responded that it was "not likely" that "the U.S. can succeed in Iraq"; 44 percent felt it was "likely."
Broder also asserted that there is a "long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two springtime exhibitions of ineptitude to end." But Broder provided no examples of a Democratic senator criticizing Reid; in fact, the only Democrat Broder cited in his column was Schumer, who was defending Reid. Further, as Think Progress noted, The Washington Post reported April 24 on what appeared to be Reid's strong support among Democrats: "In a closed-door meeting, Reid acknowledged that he had a [White House] target on his back, and Democratic senators responded with a standing ovation." By contrast, several Republican senators have expressed dissatisfaction with Gonzales, such as Sens. Tom Coburn (OK), Arlen Specter (PA), John Sununu (NH), and Graham.