Why are all the best defenses of the administration in Attorneygate …

… not coming from the administration itself?

For example, over at NRO, Ed Whelan throws a tower full of ice-cold water on the Washington Post’s flaming hot story today about how media/nutroot darling and pLamegate special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was among the attorneys ‘ranked’ during the DOJ’s process of deciding which attorneys should stay or go. Whelan wrote:

Consider the facts:

1. The reporters who wrote the story have known since a week ago—when the first batch of internal Administration documents was made available on the House Judiciary Committee’s website—that the Justice Department sent the White House a chart in March 2005 ranking all U.S. attorneys in one of three categories: (a) “Recommend retaining; strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General”; (b) “Recommend removing; weak U.S. Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.”; and (c) “No recommendation; have not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively”. Thus, the fact touted in the headline—that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney from Chicago who doubled as the special counsel investigating the CIA leak investigation, was included in the chart—is hardly news.

2. The first sentence of the article breathlessly relates that the chart listed Fitzgerald among those prosecutors who had “not distinguished themselves”. Somehow the reader isn’t informed until the 19th and 20th paragraphs—well below the fold on the continuation page of the story—that that ranking meant that the Justice Department was not recommending Fitzgerald’s removal (or not “at the time”, as the article tendentiously states the point).

3. The article defends its insinuation that Fitzgerald might have been targeted for removal by noting that two other U.S. attorneys who had received the same ranking as Fitzgerald at the time ended up being removed. But by that logic the reporters would have found it equally incriminating if Fitzgerald had received the highest rating of “Recommend retaining”, as two U.S. attorneys who received that rating at the time ended up being removed.

4. The reader is led to believe that the “No recommendation” ranking for Fitzgerald is implausible. In particular, the reporters quote former prosecutor Mary Jo White as stating that Fitzgerald is “probably the best prosecutor in the nation” and that his middling ranking “lacks total credibility” “casts doubt on the whole process” and is “kind of the icing on the cake.” By all accounts, Fitzgerald is a remarkably talented prosecutor. But what the reporters and White seem not to understand is that the ranking does not purport to be merely of prosecutorial skills. It also includes an assessment of the U.S. attorney’s fidelity to Administration enforcement initiatives. There is no reason to think that White is in any position to judge how Fitzgerald performed on that score.

Why are we not hearing such defenses come from administration officials themselves? Patterico, who – like me – has been defending the administration against the bogus allegations being thrown around by hyperventilating Democrats and their pals in the MSM, is frustrated, too:

Now, it could be that everything WLS is saying is true. Indeed, I have no reason to doubt him. But that only reinforces my point about the Administration’s apparent unwillingness to defend itself. Why are we hearing these specifics from WLS and not from Tony Snow? The Administration appears content to dump these e-mails on the public and let us sort it all out. They appear not to realize that when they do that, without a plan, the press will just pick out the e-mails that make them look bad — and distort them in the process.

I haven’t read through all the newly released e-mails, but I read through the first set that was released. It was chock full of comments from Kyle Sampson about the need to have the political will to weather the storm that would result from the firings. But — and if I’m wrong, please correct me — I don’t remember seeing any hint of a comprehensive plan to explain to the public why they did what they did, and why it was the right thing to do.

The Administration appears to be getting caught flat-footed by apparent contradictions in its story, instead of being ready with answers, as wls is, to address them.

As I said, that makes it hard to defend them.

Indeed, it does.

The administration has – especially since the start of Bush’s second term – what I think is a borderline obsession with wanting to appear fair and responsive when accusations of wrongdoing first appear in the press, which all too often causes them to bungle their responses and come out sounding like uncoordinated lightweights rather than get it right the first time around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen stellar defenses of the adminstration on any number of manufactured ‘contoversies’ that we never hear from the admin itself. And even when the admin does get it right and defends itself spectacularly, as the ‘controversy’ keeps brewing they eventually cave under the pressure and ‘moderate’ their response and position on any given issue, making the people who have spent their time defending them feel like they’ve wasted it because the administration won’t stand firm.

We need real leadership within the administration. People who know how to defend their turf. I think we need Senator Mitch McConnell in the WH!

Update I: The President will be issue a statement regarding le affaire de Gonzales at 5:45 ET today. He reaffirmed his support for Gonzales earlier today prior to a 94- 2 Senate vote revoking the AG’s power to appoint attorneys, so I wonder what his statement this afternoon will be about? Will he announce that the AG is stepping down to ‘spend more time with his family’? Stay tuned …

Update II: CNN is reporting that the WH will allow Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to be interviewed by congressional committees re: the handling of the firing of the eight attorneys.

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