Attorney General Gonzales Should Resign or Be Removed from Office

PFAW petitions demand Gonzales’ departure as first step to restoring rule of law in administration marked by abuse of power, violations of Constitution

WASHINGTON, D.C.—People For the American Way, which two years ago helped lead opposition to the confirmation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, today called for his resignation or removal as the first step toward holding the White House and Department of Justice accountable to the rule of law, and urged Congress to expand its oversight of the administration.

“Each scandal sheds new light on the Bush administration’s abuse of power, violation of Americans’ civil liberties, and contempt for the Constitution,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “Our nation’s top law enforcement official is in the middle of it, showing greater fidelity to the political interests of President Bush than to the public interest and the rule of law.”

Early last week, Congress heard testimony from eight U.S. attorneys who had been fired by the Bush administration, several of whom testified that their dismissals appeared politically motivated. Since then, news reports have linked that political pressure to the White House and President Bush himself. In addition, the Department of Justice’s inspector general recently issued a report finding that the F.B.I., which is part of the Justice Department, had violated the law and abused its authority under the Patriot Act to obtain personal information about American citizens.

Ralph G. Neas was on on NPR's Diane Rehm Show as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales takes increased political heat after the previously denied White House role in U.S. Attorney firings revealed. Neas said these are just the most recent in a series of developments that demonstrate Alberto Gonzales has failed to live up to his oath of office and act as the people’s lawyer, not the President’s.

“The Attorney General has demonstrated time and again that Americans can’t trust him—or this administration—to follow the law, or to uphold the Constitution,” said Neas. “There has to be some accountability here. It is in the nation’s best interest for the Attorney General to resign, and if he fails to do so, President Bush should remove him from office.”

People For the American Way was one of the most vocal opponents of Gonzales’ confirmation as Attorney General in early 2005, based in large part on his advocacy for overreaching presidential powers and his role as one of the chief architects of the administration’s policies on the torture of detainees, one of the most serious abuses of power by this administration. (See PFAW’s 2005 report opposing Gonzales’ confirmation here.) At the time, PFAW questioned Gonzales’ judgment and warned that the Constitution and rule of law could suffer if he were confirmed.

“PFAW’s review reveals a lawyer who too often allows his legal judgment to be driven by his close relationship with the President rather than adherence to the law or the Constitution.” Neas said at the time. “The risk that such lack of independence poses…is simply too great to warrant his confirmation.”

Such fears have now come to pass. Gonzales has repeatedly used his position to further the Bush administration’s agenda even when it conflicts with the rule of law and the interests of the American people. In addition to the problems noted above, Gonzales:

  • Defended the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying program, which operated in secrecy for years in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court
  • Continues to back the Bush administration’s authority to hold U.S. detainees without judicial review
  • Showed disdain for congressional oversight that could protect Americans’ civil liberties
  • Oversaw the Justice Department’s failure to fully enforce laws that protect every eligible American citizen’s right to vote
  • Undermined checks and balances by asserting that the courts have no right to judge the executive branch’s national security policies
  • Falsely suggested in testimony before Congress that the Constitution does not provide the right of habeas corpus

Neas announced that PFAW has begun circulating a petition demanding Gonzales’ departure.

PFAW is not alone in its call for Gonzales to leave office. On Sunday morning, the New York Times editorialized that he should resign or be removed. Also on Sunday, the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, Charles Schumer of New York, called on Gonzales to resign.

Criticism of Gonzales’ Justice Department has become increasingly bipartisan, with Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.), and others expressing disapproval.

One reason that criticism of Gonzales is growing is that the new Congress has shown a markedly stronger commitment to exercising its oversight responsibility than have previous ones. For example, most of the U.S. attorney firings occurred on December 7, but it was not until last week’s congressional hearings that they gained widespread attention.

“The House and Senate should be commended for their return to oversight. Congressional oversight is an important part of the system of checks and balances, and until this Congress was sworn in, it had been sorely lacking. Congressional oversight is good for our democracy—it helps shine a spotlight on transgressions, ensure that problems are remedied, and bring accountability to government,” Neas said. “It is also important to be clear that this doesn’t stop here. Bush administration efforts to undermine civil liberties and the rule of law must be investigated, and those who have violated the law must be held accountable, whether Attorney General Gonzales steps down or not.”

PFAW’s efforts to bring about Gonzales’ departure are part of a larger campaign to restore constitutional liberties that have been undermined by the Bush administration. PFAW is working to end the administration’s illegal domestic spying program, restore habeas corpus protections, and bring about increased congressional oversight of the Bush administration’s activities in the area of constitutional liberties.

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