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JUNE 2007


by Alex Miller-Mignone

“I don’t recall.”

–Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, in response to more than 100 questions in House and Senate testimony, April and May, 2007

Alberto GonzalesOn 7 December 2006, eight US Attorneys were fired, in the opening salvo of a political scandal that could bring down the current US Attorney General and quite possibly the entire Bush administration. The affair is a complex one, with roots as far back as the sweeping changes made possible by the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of 9/11.

Traditionally, all US Attorneys are appointed by the administration, approved by the Senate, and serve at the pleasure of the president. It is not at all uncommon for incoming administrations to ask for the resignations of all sitting US Attorneys, and then to selectively accept only some, which then require Senate confirmation for their replacements. The purpose of this, as with Cabinet officials, is to ensure that the people’s business is performed by qualified professionals, not simply political appointees. It is rather more unusual for an administration to call for the resignation of an attorney, once vetted, unless there are serious performance issues. Asking for the simultaneous resignations of several in the middle of a term is unprecedented.

However, in March 2006 the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act was signed into law, with two new significant provisions. In the first, the US Attorney General was granted the authority to appoint "interim" attorneys without congressional approval, waiving the prior limit of 120 days on these terms, which may now continue indefinitely. In the second, the authority of the local Federal District Court having jurisdiction over these appointments was nullified, where formerly they would fill vacant attorney positions left without a confirmed appointee in excess of 120 days.

Both these former provisions, the Senate confirmation and the Federal District Court oversight, were designed to prevent just such a situation which has now apparently occurred, with US Attorneys deemed not loyal enough to the administration being fired and replaced with political operatives more amenable to the White House. [Author’s note: both these controversial changes have been repealed by Congress since the emergence of this scandal, returning us to the status quo ante-9/11.]

Even before the new provisions of the PATRIOT Act were signed into law, the administration was chafing under the restriction of congressional oversight, with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson stating that his remedy was to “target for removal and replacement” US Attorneys who had “chafed against Administration initiatives,” retaining only those who “exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General.”

The subsequent alterations in the policies regulating the appointment of US Attorneys were just the ticket, and it didn’t take long for the White House to take advantage of the new rules. By late summer lists were being compiled by administration officials such as Monica Goodling, liaison between the White House and the Justice Department, to determine which of the US Attorneys, by their political affiliations and actions, did not fit the profile of “loyal Bushie.” Eight were targeted in the first round of firings (with removal of up to one third of the total number of US Attorneys the goal). They were chosen specifically either for a lack of zeal in prosecuting Democrats, or too much zeal in prosecuting Republicans (already since 2001 an estimated 80% of DOJ prosecutions were focused on Democrats). On September 16 Sampson wrote to White House Counsel Harriet Myers: “I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA[ttorney] appointments...[By avoiding Senate confirmation] we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.” Surely an ironic assessment of the benefits, given the subsequent imbroglio.

On November 27, 2006, AG Alberto Gonzales met with Justice Department staffers and other administration personnel to discuss the firing plan, which received final approval from the White House in early December, precipitating the December 7 firings by DOJ official Michael Battle. At first, the only reaction came from the senators of the affected states. With the new Congress sworn in on 4 January, chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds oversight on US Attorneys, passed to the Democrats, and committee members Senators Feinstein of California and Chairperson Leahy of Vermont expressed qualms about the bypassing of the traditional confirmation process for the fired attorneys’ replacements, enacted by the new PATRIOT Act provisions. No one on Capitol Hill at first suspected that the process had been politicized, just that its transparency had been eroded and Congress’ oversight powers eliminated.

But within the legal community, the new appointees raised some eyebrows. Although generally well credentialed, none of the replacement attorneys had local ties to their new jurisdictions, which had formerly been the common practice. All were culled from top-level White House or Justice Department positions, an apparent reward for faithful service to the administration.

In an early Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on February 6, Deputy AG Paul McNulty testified that the firings were motivated not by politics, but by poor performance in 7 of 8 cases, though documents later revealed that 6 of the 7 had recently received outstanding performance ratings. He also stated that the White House played only a “marginal role” in the dismissals, but contradicted his own testimony when he confirmed that one of the attorneys, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, was fired specifically to make room for a protégé of Karl Rove. McNulty’s assertion of performance issues enraged several of the fired attorneys, who then came forward to protest. Three of them averred that superiors had specifically informed them that they were being asked to resign to make room for more loyal Bush appointees.

On March 5 Michael Battle, who had done the actual firing of the attorneys, resigned; in an op-ed piece for USA Today the following day, Gonzales downplayed the controversy and the significance of Battle’s resignation, terming the incident “an overblown personnel matter.” But on March 13 Gonzales’ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson also resigned, and in a subsequent press conference the AG stated that he had never seen any documents or participated in any discussions related to the proposed firings, an allegation refuted by DOJ records released March 25 which showed Gonzales’ presence at the November 27 strategy meeting.

Already by March 15 Senate members, including some from the GOP, were calling for Gonzales’ resignation, broadening the scope of their criticisms of his tenure at Justice to include abuses of the PATRIOT Act and misuse of the national security letters, which give the FBI virtually unlimited powers of investigation over any American citizen whom the administration deems to be a threat. Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees subpoenaed White House and DOJ records and employees in late March, including liaison Monica Goodling. Bush responded that White House officials would not testify under oath, even if subpoenaed. On March16 Goodling took a leave of absence, canceling her scheduled appearance at congressional hearings and citing the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. She resigned on April 7.

In his March 29 hearing testimony, Kyle Sampson refuted the statements of his former boss that the AG had been out of the loop on the firings: "I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. Attorney removals was accurate...I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. Attorneys to resign." But he refused to cooperate fully, himself stating over one hundred times that he could not “recall” specifics of the meetings he had attended on the subject.

On April 10 the House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for the full text of redacted emails that had been released earlier by DOJ. The White House replied that those emails, some of which had been sent on accounts belonging to the Republican Party to skirt restrictions on the use of public funds for political purposes, had been lost.

Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 19 April, but his testimony was less than convincing. His response to more than 60 questions was that he “could not recall,” leaving the impression that he was either not being very truthful, or that he was an extremely incompetent and uninvolved manager of his Department. Calls for his resignation escalated on both sides of the aisle, but Bush professed himself “pleased” with the AG’s testimony, stating: “The Attorney General ... gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer, in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job....[A]s the investigation, the hearings went forward, it was clear that the Attorney General broke no law, did no wrongdoing. And some senators didn't like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could. This is an honest, honorable man, in whom I have confidence.”

The vapid performance was repeated on May 10 for the House Judiciary Committee, with an opening statement from Gonzales that was almost verbatim a transcript of his Senate testimony, despite the release in the interim of additional documents which clearly showed his foreknowledge of the firings. Gonzales’ reputation took a further beating the following week with the testimony of former Deputy AG James Comey, who cited a March 2004 incident in which Gonzales, then White House counsel, attempted to strong-arm then AG John Ashcroft into signing off on an extension of the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping policy. Ashcroft was in intensive care following gall bladder surgery when Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card approached him for approval of the policy’s legality, although Ashcroft had earlier expressed his doubts and had, during his hospitalization, turned over his authority to Comey as acting AG. Comey had refused to countenance the wiretaps, and Gonzales and Card were sent to persuade Ashcroft to overrule him. These discussions, held in the presence of Ashcroft’s wife and in an unsecured hospital room, very probably violated laws concerning the disclosure of national security issues.

On May 14 Deputy AG Paul McNulty, who had confirmed Karl Rove’s role in at least one of the firings, resigned. On May 21 a non-binding resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives for a vote of “no confidence” in Gonzales’ leadership at DOJ, and urging his dismissal. Another is pending in the Senate. Bush declared the action to be “pure political theater” and reiterated his support for the embattled AG. But on the 24th Monica Goodling’s testimony undercut Gonzales’ position further, reaffirming his involvement in the process and admitting the political motivation for the firings. She further confessed that she had “crossed the line” in choosing candidates for preferment by their political views, thus breaking civil service hiring laws.

GonzalesGonzales has a long history of providing controversial legal advice which just happens to coincide with the wishes of his employers. It was his memo to Bush on the “quaint” and “obsolete” anti-torture provisions of the Geneva Conventions which green-lighted the administration’s execrable interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. He further authored the Presidential Order empowering military tribunals to try terrorist suspects without benefit of counsel, and stonewalled Congress on the release of documents from Dick Cheney’s 2001 Energy Task Force meetings. He has also stated his opinion, in public Senate hearings, that the US Constitution does not in fact guarantee a right to habeas corpus (the right of an accused person to trial before imprisonment).

Gonzales served as Bush’s general counsel while Governor of Texas from his election in 1994 until 1997, when Bush appointed him the Texas Secretary of State, following this with a Texas Supreme Court nomination in 1999. In 2001 Gonzales followed Bush to Washington, acting as White House Counsel until his 2005 appointment as Attorney General to succeed John Ashcroft. He is the highest-ranking Hispanic in US history, seventh in succession to the presidency.

For the December 7, 2006 firing which engendered the scandal, galactic points played a key role. Most notably, Jupiter (the Justice Department and politics), Saturn (the attorneys themselves and their firing) and Pluto (the behind-the-scenes motivation, power plays, and the ensuing scandal) all make dramatic aspects affecting the outcome.

At 3 Sagittarius, Jupiter is conjoined by the Black Holes at 4 Sagittarius, indicating a massive shake-up at Justice, and is further conjoined by Mars at 1 Sagittarius and Mercury at 28 Scorpio. Mercury’s position here is atop a manifestation-evoking Quasar, and indicates a decision which, though intended to be secretive, becomes highly visible and has far-reaching consequences.

Saturn at 25 Leo had just made its retrograde station the day before, and was thus in a very powerful, stationary position in the heavens. Representing both the attorneys and their termination, Saturn was exactly opposed another Quasar at 25 Aquarius and caught in a T-Square with the Black Hole at 24 Taurus. This indicates the disruption (Black Hole) to the careers (Saturn) of those fired, as well as the unintended consequences to the administration (also Saturn), and the Quasar contact ensured that the termination would reverberate and have implications far beyond the act itself.

Pluto at 26 Sagittarius was exactly conjoined the Galactic Center, a point which, in addition to the typical Black Hole qualities of reversal and energy attraction or energy drain (seen here in the prominent media interest and the deleterious effects on the administration’s image and effectiveness), often indicates a high profile event garnering global attention, or having universal import.

GonzalesThe impact of the firings can be seen in the chart for the Justice Department as well. Established 22 June 1870, Justice sports a 24 Sagittarius Saturn, which has been undergoing a transit of Pluto for the past several years, indicating a systemic reorganization which, unfortunately, has not been a positive one. The Department has been politicized to an unprecedented degree only now becoming common knowledge via the attention paid to these firings. Additionally, its natal Sun at 1 Cancer is currently squared the supermassive Black Hole at the center of Galaxy M-87, the largest anomaly of its type of which we are aware, also suggestive of a massive redirection and alteration. Further, its natal Mercury/Jupiter conjunction at 10 Gemini is exactly opposed the Black Hole at 10 Sagittarius, which with natal Mars closely tied at 8 Gemini repeats the same triple conjunction from the date of the firings.

Interestingly, this same union of Mercury, Mars and Jupiter is also to be found in the nativity of Alberto Gonzales. Born 4 August 1955, the AG’s Mercury at 10 Leo conjoins Jupiter at 11 and Mars at 15, as well as his Sun, also at 11, a Black Hole at 9 and a controversy-provoking Maser at 13 Leo. This stellium opposes a pair of Black Holes at 11 and 12 Aquarius. From Gonzales’ Sun/Jupiter conjunction stem his various stints as Texas Secretary of State and Supreme Court Justice (Jupiter ruling both diplomacy and the judiciary) and his tenure at the Justice Department, and with Black Holes so prominent here both his phenomenal rise and devastating fall were perhaps to be expected. Black Hole energies tend to both build up and knock down, and unstable, volatile conditions often pertain.

Gonzales’ natal Pluto at 25 Leo is precisely where Saturn stationed on the day before the firings, evoking both the potential devastation of his personal power and the revelation of the scandal, both based in career matters. Additionally, transit Pluto at 26 Sagittarius for the firings was crossing Gonzales’ North Node at 25 Sagittarius, calling him to karmic account for his actions.

On March 18, 2007, as the scandal heated up in Congress and Senators began calling for his resignation, a total Solar Eclipse at 28 Pisces, exactly conjunct a Black Hole, made some dramatic aspects to Gonzales’ chart. This degree sets off a precise Galactic Pentagram, with the eclipse at its apex, in square to the Nodal Axis at 25 Sagittarius and Gemini, and forming an internal Yod with twin inconjuncts to Gonzales’ natal Neptune and Pluto at 25 Libra and Leo respectively. The fated aspects to the Nodal Axis itself and the Yod configuration within the larger pattern suggest a predestined period of reckoning; put another way, the latent potential of this pattern was activated by the eclipse which keyed upon its apex.

Will Gonzales be forced to resign? Although the Senate holds the power of impeachment over Cabinet officials, it is doubtful that the AG’s actions rise to an impeachable level, or that the political will exists in Congress to see the process through. The only two people who have a genuine say in the matter are Gonzales himself, who appears impervious to the criticism and the untenable position in which he finds himself; and Bush, “the Decider” who digs in his heels and refuses to budge, sticking to his decision regardless of any evidence to the contrary. It is quite possible that this lame duck administration will limp on with its punch-line Attorney General until Inauguration Day 2009.

Alex Miller-Mignone, photo
Alex Miller-Mignone is a professional writer and astrologer, author of The Black Hole Book and The Urban Wicca, former editor of "The Galactic Calendar," and past president of The Philadelphia Astrological Society.

His pioneering work with Black Holes in astrological interpretation began in 1991, when his progressed Sun unwittingly fell into one. Alex can be reached for comment or services at