USA Today calls it “stunning” that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is resigning Sept. 17, asked two years ago whether Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had died by lethal injection, not knowing that lethal injection is the only form of execution the federal government uses. What began five months ago with congressional investigations into the Justice Department’s botched firings of nine federal prosecutors morphed into a broad examination of Gonzales’ competence to manage a department of more than 100,000 employees. Political scientist Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University says whoever succeeds Gonzales walks into a department whose credibility and morale may be at its lowest levels since Watergate.
Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have suggested that Gonzales’ unusually detached brand of leadership rendered one of the most important government institutions after the Sept. 11 attacks nothing short of “dysfunctional.” The idea that a real estate lawyer would be Attorney General “in a post 9/11 world, nobody would have figured,” said Texas author Bill Minutaglio, who has written a recent biography of Gonzales. “To be catapulted to an outsized public position like attorney general was well beyond anything he encountered in Texas. To think that he was once on a short list for (nomination to) the U.S. Supreme Court now seems like a million years ago. He got in over his head.”