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Dead Man Talking

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“Please help us understand”: Gonzales being grilled July 24 by Schumer.

On January 6, 2005, Texas senator John Cornyn kicked off the confirmation hearings for attorney general wannabe Alberto Gonzales by introducing him as “an inspiration to anyone.” Well, Gonzales certainly inspired Chuck Schumer yesterday. The New York senator brought out the perspiration in Gonzales.

Call me Ishmael, but Spencer Ackerman and Paul Kiel did a whale of a job on tpmmuckracker.com, quickly posting commentary and clips of Schumer and Arlen Specter lobbing spears at the AG’s blowhole.

At one point, Gonzales said he “clarified” a previous statement by calling Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen and retracting it. A few minutes later, Gonzales was forced to admit that one of his aides actually contacted Eggen and that Gonzales himself didn’t know what was said.

Eggen was more charitable in his front-page story this morning, but his nut graf was this:

The session was a political low point for the attorney general, whose reputation has eroded over the past seven months in Congress, in public opinion polls and among many of his own employees.

What a tough job it is to be one of the handlers of Gonzales or Bush. You got to watch those two like a hawk. And what the hell do you do when either of them is nakedly grilled? (See the full transcript of yesterday’s hearing for an answer.)

In unrehearsed moments, their performances are staggering. Death-penalty foe Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) recalls an anecdote by Tucker Carlson that left even that Bush fan astonished at the president’s callousness and stupidity while the two discussed one of the people Bush had killed, Karla Faye Tucker.

Has there ever been a lawyer who’s worse at thinking on his feet? Not much of a shock that Gonzales looked stupid yesterday. Sometimes pols intentionally act that way, of course. It may be difficult to tell whether Gonzales is lying or just plain dumb as a post, but the probable answer: both. He was grossly unqualified in the first place to be attorney general, as the confirmation hearings a year and a half ago showed. See my “Torture in Real Time” coverage of Gonzales trying to answer questions about the then-fresh Abu Ghraib scandal. (The full transcript of the January 6, 2005, session is here.)

Ted Kennedy was apoplectic during the confirmation hearings as he questioned Gonzales on the “techniques” of “live burial.”

Yesterday’s hearing showed how that’s actually carried out.

Nobody should be surprised at Gonzales’s performance. Russ Feingold noted back in January 2005 that, during Gonzales’s term as counsel to Governor George W. Bush — when Bush became the hangingest governor in U.S. history — Gonzo didn’t prepare memos on each case until the day of the execution.

Gonzales insisted that the memos merely “summarized discussions,” what he called a “rolling series of discussions” with Bush “about every execution.”

That was a lie. Alan Berlow‘s masterful “The Hanging Governor,” way, way back in May 2000 in Salon, noted:

Even Bush’s former counsel, Judge Alberto R. Gonzales, says that a typical execution would receive no more than 30 minutes of the governor’s time.

A lot shorter, in other words, than yesterday’s strangling.

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