GMA casts Gonzales scandals as partisan: "For Democrats, it's another scalp to hang on the wall"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On Good Morning America, correspondent David Wright asserted that "[w]ere it not for the scandals, [President] Bush had hoped to make" outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court." Wright also reported that Gonzales' resignation "is being welcomed on both sides of the aisle" because "[f]or Democrats, it's another scalp to hang on the wall; and for Republicans, it's a huge distraction that now goes away." In fact, several Republicans have joined Democrats in calling for Gonzales to resign.

On the August 28 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, during coverage of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' resignation, ABC News correspondent David Wright asserted that "[w]ere it not for the scandals, [President] Bush had hoped to make Gonzales the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court," and ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said that Gonzales had delayed his resignation because "no one wants to be hounded out of office." However, Good Morning America's coverage did not describe what the "scandals" surrounding Gonzales were or why he might have been "hounded out of office." As Media Matters for America has documented, Gonzales has been accused in recent months of overseeing the firing of several U.S. attorneys for political reasons and attempting to influence the testimony of an aide regarding those dismissals. The Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility are conducting a joint investigation into the firings and Gonzales' alleged attempts to influence congressional testimony. Further, four Democratic senators have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the alleged "half-truths and misleading statements" in Gonzales' congressional testimony concerning the alleged attempt to influence his aide's testimony and his testimony regarding the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic wiretapping program.

In addition, Wright reported that Gonzales' resignation "is being welcomed on both sides of the aisle" because "[f]or Democrats, it's another scalp to hang on the wall; and for Republicans, it's a huge distraction that now goes away." In fact, as Media Matters documented, several Republicans have joined Democrats in calling for Gonzales to resign. On the July 29 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) said of Gonzales: "He doesn't have much credibility. And he would do us all a favor if he stepped down and allowed the president to select someone else." On April 19, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) told Gonzales: "I believe you ought to suffer the consequences and think [the] best way to put this behind us is with your resignation." As USA Today reported on March 15, Republican Sens. John E. Sununu (NH) and Gordon Smith (OR) have also advocated Gonzales' resignation or dismissal.

Further, Wright played a clip of Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway claiming that "[t]he resignation of Alberto Gonzales probably doesn't come a moment too soon for a president who needs to relieve himself of many distractions in order to gird for important matters like Iraq." Wright also reported that the resignation "does clear the decks ahead of that crucial September report on Iraq." Both comments ignore Democratic leaders' assertions that investigations into Gonzales' actions will continue. Several Democratic members of Congress made statements to that effect on August 27:

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) said: "This resignation is not the end of the story. Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House."
  • Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (VT) said: "I hope the Attorney General's decision will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice and toward reconstituting its leadership so that the American people can renew their faith in its role as our leading law enforcement agency."
  • House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (MI) said: "More than accountability, we need answers. Unfortunately, the continued stonewalling of the White House in the U.S. Attorney scandal has deprived the American people of the truth. If the power of the prosecutor has been misused in the name of partisanship, we deserve a full airing of the facts. The responsibility to uncover these facts is still on the Congress, and the Judiciary Committee in particular."

From the August 28 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

WRIGHT: Good morning, Bill. Well, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is the latest casualty for the Bush administration, but his departure is being welcomed on both sides of the aisle. For Democrats, it's another scalp to hang on the wall; and for Republicans, it's a huge distraction that now goes away.

[begin video clip]

WRIGHT: President Bush said he accepted the resignation with regret. Gonzales was an old buddy from Texas, one of the last of them still serving the administration. The president stuck by him till the bitter end.

PRESIDENT BUSH: His good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.

WRIGHT: Were it not for the scandals, Bush had hoped to make Gonzales the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Now the White House is just hoping to limit the damage and put the Gonzales mess behind them.

CONWAY: It's a huge loss for Democrats because he had become the favorite whipping boy on Capitol Hill and now, Democrats, if they can't swing at their political piñata, they're going to be swinging in the air.

STU ROTHENBERG (political analyst): Unfortunately for the president and his party, the Gonzales resignation really doesn't change anything.

WRIGHT: The Democrats still control Congress, so instead of a protracted standoff between the attorney general and the Judiciary Committee, the administration will now face a confirmation fight. In the past six months, as the scandal gathered steam, several senior Justice Department officials resigned. Not since Watergate have so many of the top jobs there been vacant.

ROTHENBERG: Depending upon who the president picks, there's going to be some sort of fight, some sort of controversy. It's going to be messy.

WRIGHT: But perhaps not quite so messy as it would have been had Gonzales stayed.

CONWAY: The resignation of Alberto Gonzales probably does not come a moment too soon for a president who needs to relieve himself of many distractions in order to gird for important matters like Iraq.

[end video clip]

WRIGHT: The bottom line is this does clear the decks ahead of that crucial September report on Iraq. Already with the 2008 election looming, some top Republicans have expressed some impatience about the troop surge and the administration can't afford too many distractions right now -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH VARGAS (co-host): All right, David, thanks so much. Our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos is here to get to the bottom of all this with me. And George, with Gonzales' departure, it really truly is an end of an era, the end of the Texas cohorts he brought with him when he came to Washington.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There is just no question about it. After the last election, you had a lot of Republicans saying the president should take this loss and completely clean house. He didn't do it then. He only let go of [former Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld. But since then, Harriet Miers, the White House counsel; Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser; Dan Bartlett, the communications director; now Alberto Gonzales -- all gone.

The Texas gang is gone. What you've got now in the White House are some old Washington hands who are hoping to reach out, work with Democrats and manage, as David said, this war in Iraq.

VARGAS: There is a lot of talk, though, about why, this morning, why Alberto Gonzales hung in there for so long. Even those highly critical of him said, it was -- they'd wondered how he got up and went to work every day in the midst of those excruciating hearings on Capitol Hill.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no one wants to be hounded out of office and I think that Alberto Gonzales' pride said, "I'm not going to let them beat me around at a hearing and then walk out the door." And you heard that bitterness in President Bush's voice as well.

By doing this yesterday, during the August recess, when the Senate and the Congress are out of town, they at least had the chance to do it on their own terms as much as they could. Plus, they also wanted to make sure that they were gone before September, before Congress came back. Karl rove, Alberto Gonzales, the two big targets now gone.

VARGAS: So, we just heard in David Wright's piece one of the strategists say no matter who President Bush picks, it's -- there's going to be a fight, it's going to be messy. Is that really true? Or is there a safe choice?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there's several safe choices, but it's not -- it hasn't been in the president's pattern to pick people that just appease the Democrats. Some of the names floating around -- Michael Chertoff, the head of the Department of Homeland Security -- White House officials say that's unlikely because they don't want to have two confirmation fights, losing at Homeland Security.

Senators are starting to propose a lot of different names: Dianne Feinstein said former Senator Jack Danforth [R-MO], great choice; another senator, Orrin Hatch [R-UT], another great choice; or a former judge, retired judge like Laurence Silberman. But I think a lot of the speculation, and most of it is surrounded on this group of Republican loyalist lawyers who have good relationships with Democrats. Ted Olson --

VARGAS: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- was the solicitor general. George --

VARGAS: And has a good reputation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Has a very good reputation. George Terwilliger was the deputy attorney general for President Bush; and then, finally, Larry Thompson, he would be the first African-American attorney general, now the general counsel of PepsiCo.

Network/Outlet
ABC
Person
George Stephanopoulos
Show/Publication
Good Morning America
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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