As Senators start to pile on our lamentable Attorney General for presiding over Karl Rove’s politicization of the US Attorneys Office — an offense known as ‘obstruction of justice’ — I would like to direct your attention to a similar but somehow forgotten scandal.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales also presided over one of the more sordid aspects of the Plame scandal. When Gonzales first learned that the Justice Department had started an official investigation into the Plame leak, Gonzales waited twelve hours before putting the White House staff on notice that they had to preserve documents and electronic files. Which seemed than — and seems now — like an open invitation to “shredding and deleting,” not to mention getting your story straight. In short, obstruction of justice.
And it’s not as if Gonzales dithered trying to make up his mind what to do. He told White House Chief of Staff Andy Card about the investigation right away — many hours before sending the official notification to preserve all evidence.
Here’s how Senator Harkin described the sequence of events back in October 2003:
On September 26, the Department of Justice officially launches its investigation.
Interestingly, it took 4 days after that “official” launch for the Justice Department to call White House Counsel Gonzales and notify him of the official investigation. Gonzalez then asked for an extra day before the Justice Department gave the White House the official notice, which means all documents and records must be preserved.
A recent letter was sent to the President from Senators Daschle, Schumer, Levin, and Biden which also expresses concern about this break from regular procedure.
Every former prosecutor with whom we have spoken has said that the first step in such an investigation would be to ensure all potentially relevant evidence is preserved, yet the Justice Department waited four days before making a formal request for documents.
Interestingly, the letter goes on:
When the Justice Department finally asked the White House to order employees to preserve documents, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales asked for permission to delay transmitting the order to preserve evidence until morning. The request for a delay was granted. Again, every former prosecutor with whom we have spoken has said that such a delay is a significant departure from standard practice.
Lest you think this is much ado about nothing, consider that when Patrick Fitzgerald came looking, key emails to or from the Vice President’s office mysteriously could not be found in the White House computer system’s archives.