Robert Novak

I met Gonzales for the first time in 2001 when, along with other conservative journalists, I went to the White House for a background briefing on the new president's judicial nominations by presidential counsel Gonzales. I was stunned by the incoherence by the briefer. After checking with several Republican senators, I received the same verdict. Their judgment was that Gonzales was not qualified for a senior government position.

Gonzales's handling of the crisis over the firing of U.S. attorneys set new standards for incompetence. In the midst of the furor, he agreed to address the National Press Club May 15 (insisting on breakfast instead of the usual lunch). It by chance was the 44th anniversary of this column, and I never before had seen anything like it.

Gonzales arrived in time for the speech without making a customary greeting to other head table guests. With the capital poised for something about the U.S. attorneys affair, he delivered an irrelevant speech prepared by the Justice bureaucracy. In the question-and-answer period, however, Gonzales repeatedly blamed the problem on Paul McNulty, who had resigned that day as his deputy.

Leaving the Justice Department does not mean Gonzales is safe from the Senate's Democratic sharks led by Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer -- including contempt of Congress charges. But the president's concern now is getting his new attorney general past the Senate Judiciary Committee. Everybody on the short list can count on trouble from Leahy and Schumer. It is questionable whether any of them would undergo that harrowing experience for 16 months in a lame-duck administration.

In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, former Republican Justice Department officials said the new attorney general must protect presidential prerogatives against congressional encroachment. That is correct, but George W. Bush can blame himself and Alberto Gonzales for the impending danger.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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