This morning’s news of the expected resignation of Alberto Gonzales takes him in a few years from President Bush’s general counsel, to attorney general, to private citizen.
Much of the focus on Mr. Gonzales has been over the handling (or mis-handling) of the removal of eight US attorneys. Or over a burgeoning domestic surveillance program when he was White House Counsel.
But I think it goes deeper.
One thing that makes a good general counsel is an ability to balance loyalty with independence. Other C-level executives can do this, but none of them comes at it from the same ethical and professional standpoint.
There is no doubt that Mr. Gonzales owed most of his political good fortune to Mr. Bush. While that doesn’t mean he couldn’t give the President his best impartial advice, one has to search hard to find supporting evidence. Or perhaps Mr. Gonzales has no recollection of it.
Contrast this with the performance in 2004 of then acting AG James Comey, who had to support the Constitution when John Ashcroft was sedated in the hospital and endure pressure from Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Mr. Gonzales (plus who knows who else) to expand domestic surveillance.
Imagine what that was like and consider what you would be thinking the next time you started your car.
Mr. Comey went from AG to GC with Lockheed Martin.
And the next AG put forth by President Bush will hopefully have a record of integrity. If not, confirmation could drag past November 2008.