We're not sure Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied about his role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, but he may have badly misled Congress about it.
In testimony to Congress, Gonzales avowed no role whatsoever in the firings; but documents subsequently released to Congress indicate he may have.
That the attorney general would have a role in such a firing is unremarkable. Actually, what would be remarkable is if, as he initially indicated, he had no role.
What would be even more remarkable, however, is if he did have a role and misled Congress about it. Such an inartful dodge would be totally unnecessary, given the administration's unquestionable power to fire U.S. attorneys at will.
It would also be a legitimate reason for seeking Gonzales' resignation. We cannot have an attorney general who even shades the truth, particularly in court or before Congress.
"We never had a discussion about where things stood," Gonzales said March 13.
But in documents released by the Justice Department last week, it appears Gonzales was at a Nov. 27 meeting where the firings were discussed and perhaps decided on.
"Either he was more involved in this matter than he has admitted, or he is not paying attention at meetings," writes liberal online magazine Slate.
"He has said some things that just don't add up," says Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
"We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful," adds Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. "And if we find out he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on."
Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he'll bide his time until Gonzales testifies before the group April 17. But will Gonzales survive that long? Increasing numbers in Congress are calling for his resignation, or are at least seriously questioning his basic credibility. Perhaps worse, his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday - and his attorney says Sampson "looks forward to answering the committee's questions."
Even if Gonzales can survive until April 17, the administration will need to weigh the assets and liabilities of keeping him on.
This is yet to be a real scandal.
But the Bush administration seems intent on making it one.