Gonzales Tries the ‘Pure Heart Empty Head’ Defense

The law as a rule frowns on the 'pure heart, empty head' defense, which is how we lawyers refer to claims that “I meant well; I didn't know it was wrong to borrow from the pension fund.”

Yet, amazingly, our Attorney General is now asserting a defense for the firings which is no more than that.

Gonzales: Firings were not improper Gonzales: What I can say is this: I know the reasons why I asked you — these United States attorneys to leave. And it — it was not for improper reasons. It was not to interfere with the public corruption case. It was not for partisan reasons.

[NBC's Brian Pete] Williams: To put this question another way — if you didn't review their performance during this process, then how can you be certain that they were fired for performance reasons?

Gonzales: I — I've given — I've given the answer to the question, Pete. I know — I know the reasons why I made the decision. Again, there's nothing in the documents to support the allegation that there was anything improper here. And there is an internal — department review to answer that question, to reassure the — the American people that there was nothing improper that happened here.

Got that? I had no role in the decision, I just signed off on it. I don't know how they came up with that list, but since I could never possibly have meant anything bad or partisan, and because I never had the brains to make any connection between the names on that list and high-profile Republican prosecutions, the public should give me credit for my pure heart regardless of whether there was anything in my brain.

Come on America. Leaving aside the rather dubious credibility of the claim that Gonzales is this clueless and dumb, can we afford an AG whose defense against charges of unethical and probably criminal activity is … blithering ignorance?

The Brits have a name for what Gonzales is claiming — “Nelsonian Knowledge,” based on the famous incident in which Admiral Nelson put a telescope to his blind eye so that he could say, “I see no ships signals”:

It is dishonest for a man deliberately to shut his eyes to facts which he would prefer not to know. If he does so, he is taken to have actual knowledge of the facts to which he shut his eyes. Such knowledge has been described as “Nelsonian knowledge”, meaning knowledge which is attributed to a person as a consequence of his “wilful blindness” or (as American lawyers describe it) “contrived ignorance”.
Twinsectra Limited v Yardley and Others, [2002] UKHL 12, at para. 112.

All this aside, given Gonzales's personal history as GWB's legal valet, it's hard to believe he lacked genuine, rather than merely Nelsonian, knowledge of what he was signing and why. Either way he doesn't deserve to stay in office; I suppose, though, the difference might matter to a grand jury.

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4 Responses to Gonzales Tries the ‘Pure Heart Empty Head’ Defense

  1. Phill says:

    Nelson did not say ‘I see no ships’.

    On the contrary he refused to acknowledge an order telling him to disengage from the battle of Copenhagen, fought the engagement and won. The actual quote is ‘I really do not see the signal!’

    Since he was the Vice Admiral of the Blue at the time, the sixth highest rank in the Navy he was acting within his rights as was customary in the day.

  2. mcg says:

    Thank God for Phill.

  3. Dave says:

    Should it be Pete Williams, not Brian?

  4. Michael says:

    Yes, you’re right – It’s Pete. And Phill’s right too. I need more sleep.

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