Tempest in a teapot

As much fun as it is to criticize the President and his appointees, and as much as they frequently deserve it, I think the most recent criticism I'm hearing (via Mark Kleinman) is fairly specious. Alberto Gonzales appears to have not told the full story in response to one of the writen questions from Senator Leahy sent him as part of the confirmation process.

This particular question asked for a full description of the events when, in 1996, (then) governor Bush was called for jury duty. Bush publicly declared that he wanted to serve. However, he didn't fill in the part of the jury questionnaire asking about past arrests. When it turned out that it was a drunk driving case, Bush realized that his own drunk driving conviction from 1976 would come out. So Gonzales, the chief counsel to the governor, had a closed doors meeting with the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney. In this conference, he argued that having Bush serve as juror would create a potential conflict of interest in the situation that a request for a pardon came before him in his position as a governor. The dubious merit of this novel legal argument isn't important. What is important is that it led to Bush being dismissed from the jury pool and his DWI conviction not coming to light until almost the end of the 2000 campaign. The new criticism is that Gonzales failed to mention the conference in response to a question about the events surrounding Bush's jury appearance.

But the story about the conference isn't new at all, it was, for instance, in
USA Today in 2000, right after news of the DWI came out. That story doesn't mention Gonzales, that may just be because his name wasn't nationally known prior to Bush's election. Gonzales role was in the public record though, here is a March 2002 article that does specifically mention Gonzales's part in the meeting. So the new content of the story is that Gonzales didn't acknowledge something which everyone knows happened. The Newsweek story on the new flap(which is where I got most of the facts for this post) doesn't include the exact phrasing of the question Leahy asked, so it's unclear how misleading the response was. The story does however include quotes from the judge and defense attorney, which might create the impression that this is new information. But the 2002 story includes the same data, including the argument Gonzales made. So it is clear is that this isn't a cover-up, since it's a story that was published in 2002 and wasn't disputed by the administration at that time. Presumably, Leahy's awareness of this story is why he asked. While Gonzales not addressing the conference in his response certainly isn't praiseworthy, he hasn't denied that the conference took place or anything like that. There are surely far better criticisms to be made, and it's not clear to me that this is a problem at all.

Update: Yglesias makes far too much out of this incident.