Go read Murray Waas right now.
Here's the story as I understand it -
The reason Gonzales has come across as a know-nothing rubberstamper is because...he was a know-nothing rubberstamper. Someone(s) at the White House had decided that they were going to control all appointments to the Justice Department, in order to stuff it with fellow travellers and cronies.
To that end, Gonzales signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides - Sampson and Goodling, both of whom have already resigned - authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department.
Why? So that other senior DoJ officials such as "the second- and third-highest-ranking political appointees in the Justice Department -- the deputy attorney general and the associate attorney general -- would no longer have final authority to staff their own offices." They might have objected to White House choices on small matters such as...oh...competence, experience and impartiality.
And it looks like Gonzales agreed so that he would only have to rubberstamp this order rather than have to concern himself with playing yesman to every single White House pick. Sheer incompetent, cronyist, laziness. Doing a Shultz while just following orders.
Wass writes about the consequences of this order:
A senior Justice Department official, who did not know of Gonzales's delegation of authority until contacted by National Journal, said that it posed a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal-justice system because it gave Sampson, Goodling, and the White House control over the hiring of senior officials in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, which oversees all politically sensitive public corruption cases, at the same time that they held authority to hire and fire U.S. attorneys.So now, every single appointment in the DoJ since March 2006 (at least) is suspect and should be investigated by Congress.
The assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division is a political appointee of the president and is subject to Senate confirmation. But two of the division's five deputies are not subject to Senate confirmation. Under the order signed on March 1, 2006, their fate was delegated to Sampson and Goodling.
Based on a review of the delegation order, the official said, the Criminal Division chief's principal deputy, his counselor, any of his special assistants, and a score of other aides were also among those who could be fired and replaced by Sampson and Goodling, and then subject to final approval by Gonzales.
"It would be an act of insanity and, frankly, implausible that the attorney general would grant authority to Kyle [Sampson] and Monica Goodling to make these decisions," the official said, "But it would be frightening if they were serving as proxies for the White House. You do not want to allow for the possible politicization of your Criminal Division like that."
And the biggest question of all is - who at the White House had the bright idea of politicizing the entire Department of Justice?
Update Via Nico at Think Progress - Sen. Leahy is already on the case, firing off a demand that the DoJ turn over the secret order and any related documents PDQ. Leahy's statement says, in part:
This development is highly troubling in what it seems to reveal about White House politicization of key appointees in the Department of Justice. The mass firing of U.S. attorneys appeared to be part of a systematic scheme to inject political influence into the hiring and firing decisions of key justice employees. This secret order would seem to be evidence of an effort to hardwire control over law enforcement by White House political operatives.This one just keeps getting deeper and more filled with crocodiles for the Bushies, doesn't it?