The Associated Press and Washington Post reported today that Justice Department investigators have faulted Alberto Gonzales for repeatedly mishandling national secrets during his tenure as Bush’s White House counsel and Attorney General. The eye-opening accounts reveal that Gonzales failed to properly secure classified information in his DOJ office and even took classified materials home with him.
What’s worse, he used an unlocked briefcase to transport the materials and didn’t store them in his home safe. But the coup de grace, courtesy of the DOJ investigators, is that Gonzales “did not know the combination to the safe at his house.”
The crux of Gonzales’ defense, according to his lawyers, is that he didn’t intentionally mishandle documents but rather “was forgetful or unaware of the proper way to handle the top secret papers.” This strains credulity, especially since Gonzales was briefed at least twice on security procedures and signed a document that informed him of repercussions for mishandling classified information.
As incredible as Gonzales’ absent-minded professor defense may seem, it’s all too familiar for those who watched the attorney firing scandal play out. He and his co-conspirators repeatedly pleaded ignorance, often to a comical degree – Kyle Sampson actually uttered the words “I don’t remember” 122 separate times in his testimony.
The public has long since learned more than enough to know that Gonzales’ misconduct was due to arrogance and incompetence, not forgetfulness. His defense is cowardly and insults our intelligence, but his lawyers apparently don’t believe that he can defend himself on the merits. That strategy has worked so far – the Bush DOJ has declined to file criminal charges against its former leader – but it may not work forever.