Sunday, November 18, 2007


By William Fisher

Forget the Red Cross. Forget the United Way. Forget your church building fund. Forget those Bangladesh cyclone victims.

There’s a far more urgent need, and your job is to step up to the plate and meet it.

Alberto Gonzales, our former Attorney General, is being investigated by the Justice Inspector General, who is looking into whether Gonzales misled Congress in sworn testimony about the National Security Agency’s “terrorist surveillance program”, and improperly sought to influence testimony of an aide, Monica M. Goodling, about last year's firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

But poor Al is broke. He can’t pay his lawyers.

So his friends – yes, he apparently still has quite a few – are setting up a legal defense fund. You will recall that Scooter Libby’s buddies did the same thing.

One of the founders of the Gonzales legal defense fund says poor Al “does not have the means to pay for his legal defense after a career spent mostly in public service.”

That news comes from one of those Gonzales friends, David G. Leitch. Leitch happens to be the top lawyer at the Ford Motor Company. In a begging-bowl email he sent to a list of Republican fatcats last month, Leitch asserted that
Gonzales is "innocent of any wrongdoing."

He said, "In the hyper-politicized atmosphere that has descended on Washington, an innocent man cannot simply trust that the truth will out. He must engage highly competent legal counsel to represent him. That costs money,money that Al Gonzales doesn't have."

Leitch solicited contributions of amounts from $500 to $5,000 to the Alberto R. Gonzales Legal Expense Trust.

Leitch also reported that Gonzales's attorney,George J. Terwilliger III of
White & Case in Washington, "has substantially reduced his fees to represent
Al Gonzales, but the costs will likely be high nonetheless."

Terwilliger, you might recall, was a leader of the Bush-Cheney legal team in the 2000Florida recount fight.

"We have been engaged to assist Judge Gonzales in his continued effort to provide assistance to the Department of Justice as it examines the Department's role in various programs and operations to combat the terrorist threat," Terwilliger told Newsweek. "An unbiased assessment of the facts will show that Judge Gonzales, while holding high public office during a time of great peril, worked to help maintain the safety and security of the American people and acted always with the intent and commitment to honor the rule of law."

In the interests of accuracy, we note that Gonzales has not yet been charged with any crime and champion his right to the best legal help he can find. That’s The American Way. And the least we can do for “the people’s lawyer.”

Checkbooks at the ready? After all, don’t we all owe poor Al our support in his time of need?

Lest we forget, Gonzales toiled for years in the loyal service of George W. Bush. He was Bush’s lawyer when Dubya was governor of Texas. The two of them spent a lot of time – some say up to five minutes per case – reviewing death sentences before they were carried out. He was rewarded with an appointment to the Texas Supreme Court.

When the governor became the president, what choice could have been more visionary than Al as White House Counsel? In that role, our former AG distinguished himself as the conveyor belt and chief rubber-stamp of recommendations from high-level Bush appointees in the Department of Justice to justify torture and the suspension of habeas corpus.

All this effort was not without its reward. Al got nominated and confirmed as our attorney general. As “the people’s lawyer,” Al outsourced to inexperienced ideologues the recruitment and screening of prospective career DOJ officers, presided over the outstanding legal scholarship used to justify warrantless snooping on phone calls and emails, trashing the Constitution’s checks and balances, continued unlimited expansion of executive power, and the still unexplained firings of nine US Attorneys.

Al had a problem, however: His memory. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his incantation, “I can’t recall,” might as well have been a pre-recorded announcement.

Al’s current predicament reminds me of a 1932 depression-era song, a plea from a once high-and-mighty magnate, now fallen on to hard times, “standing in line just waiting for bread.”

The lyrics were eerily prescient:

Once I built a railroad, I made it run,
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad, now it's done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?”

Say don't you remember? They called me Al.
It was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember? I'm your pal.
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?

So let’s all get behind our pal Al and his lawyers. Particularly in this holiday season of Peace on Earth and Good Will To Men, can you think of a better way to show our appreciation for everything Alberto Gonzales did for us?