Steve Chapman

When you start getting reviews like that from people in your own party, you're entering the land of the living dead, which was so recently occupied and then vacated by Donald Rumsfeld. A Cabinet official who becomes a gross liability may find that even Bush's loyalty has limits.

But getting rid of Gonzales will be nothing to applaud if Bush replaces him with another friend or partisan player carrying out a White House agenda. What is needed is the lawyer equivalent of Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- a distinguished figure with unblemished integrity, a titanium backbone and an excess of independence and competence.

An even better model is Edward Levi, who was charged with restoring confidence in the Justice Department in the aftermath of Watergate. He was a respected law professor and president of the University of Chicago, not a buddy of President Gerald Ford, and he carried out his mission impeccably. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said later, Levi's crucial asset was "a level of integrity such as there could never be any doubt about his honesty, forthrightness or truthfulness." That would be a change, wouldn't it?

Candidates like Levi don't grow on trees, but I can think of people who have the attributes the department and the country need right now. One is Harvard law professor Charles Fried, who was solicitor general under President Reagan. A second is John Danforth, the former Republican senator from Missouri who headed the investigation into the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. Or maybe retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, fresh from a stint on the Iraq Study Group, would do her country one more service.

There may be other people capable of pulling the Justice Department out of its slough of despond. But Alberto Gonzales is not one of them.

***Note to readers: In my last column, which dealt with the subpoenaing of reporters by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the Lewis Libby case, I noted that Washington and Lee University journalism professor Edward Wasserman had described the episode as "a calamity." Prof. Wasserman writes to say he was referring only to the failure of reporters to keep their promises of confidentiality to their sources, not to Fitzgerald's decisions.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate