I haven’t said much about the kerfuffle (to us a word that James Taranto often uses)* over the Justice Department’s handling of the firing of eight US attorneys. In my post last Friday on communication skills and leadership, I said that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign not because I believe he did anything illegal or unethical, but because he has so far been unable to explain why it was the attorneys were fired.
So far no evidence has emerged showing that Gonzales did anything wrong (besides his failure to explain what was going on). The firing of the attorneys did not serve to prevent any cases against leading Republicans or advisors to the president (or this top aides) from going forward. Indeed, investigations against several Republican lawmakers continue apace.
Some Democrats have descended into high dudgeon as evidence emerges about cooordination between the White House and Justice Department on the firing of the federal prosecutors. But, given that these officials serve at the pleasure of the president, there is nothing wrong with such coordination. Once again, the problem has been the Administration’s ability (particularly that of the Attorney General) to explain its (perfectly legal) actions.
I’m not the first conservative blogger (or writer) to suggest that Gonzales should step down. Nearly two months ago the National Review editorialized that he should resign because he failed “defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense” (Via Powerline).**
This whole hullabaloo once again shows two of the key failures of the President — that he is excessively loyal to his appointees (often, it seems, putting that loyalty ahead of his policy goals) and his seeming indifference to public relations.
The job of the head of a federal agency (particularly a Cabinet Department) requires more than administrative skill (and it doesn’t seem Gonzales had shown such skill), it also involves communication. A cabinet member needs be able to explain controversial actions. And Gonzales has failed to do that.
It’s unfortunate that neither he nor his advisors anticipated that firestorm that would follow the firing of these federal prosecutors. They should have known better, given that they had been considering the actions for some time and only dismissed most of the attorneys after the Democrats had taken control of Congress. I would dare say the president would enjoy higher approval for his policies today if his advisors spent as much time as did those of his predecessor in developing an effective “public relations” shop.
Simply put, the president hasn’t learned to spin things as well as Clinton. Nor even, in the case of the firing of the US attorneys, to offer a satisfactory explanation for a perfectly legal action.
*Perhaps hullabaloo might be a better word to describe the fuss over the goings-on there.
**Conservatives bloggers have faulted him for delegating decision-making and not being a “hands on” Attorney General while noting that he has not pursued pushing particularly conservative policies at the Justice Department.