By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Last week, I tried to defend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against an assembling mob that, when it comes to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, is long on animosity but short on facts.
The New York Times jumped the gun when it called for Gonzales to be dismissed back on March 11 -- two days before the press conference where Gonzales said that "mistakes were made" and before the Justice Department had released a single e-mail.
Columnists, pundits and editorial pages quickly piled on and demanded Gonzales' resignation without providing a good reason why. And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, spelled out in television interviews what really happened -- that someone tried to short-circuit the system and then cover it up -- and then issued subpoenas to find out what really happened.
In response to the commentary, I was flooded with angry e-mail from condescending liberals. (I know. Is there any other kind?) You see, while those on the left say they want to give people like me every possible right, apparently this doesn't include the right to think for ourselves.
Scores of readers claimed that I had written that the only reason Gonzales is in trouble is because he is Hispanic and that, for this reason alone, he should get a pass on any wrongdoing.
I don't believe either of those things. And reading over the piece, I can't find where I said otherwise. Maybe you'll have better luck. (Gonzales' persecutors blinded by rage)
Now, there is evidence that Gonzales and a handful of senior advisers discussed the plan to remove the U.S. attorneys at a meeting on November 27, 10 days before seven of the dismissals occurred.
That appears to contradict what Gonzales said at the March 13 press conference about how he was "not involved in any discussions about what was going on." Gonzales has also said that it was his former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, who compiled the list of attorneys to be fired.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos last week reiterated that Gonzales did not involve himself in selecting which U.S. attorneys should be fired, although he signed off on the final list -- which seems to have been completed by the November 27 meeting.
It may yet turn out that the messiest part of all this is not the firings per se but how the Justice Department went about justifying them. If these folks did nothing wrong, they need to stop acting as if they did.
Gonzales must clear up the confusion when he testifies next month before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He should put all his cards on the table, admit every mistake that he made and apologize for making them. And he should answer every question completely and truthfully. If there is a simple explanation for all this, then let's have it.
The point of my earlier commentary is that, for reasons that go way back and have nothing to do with this controversy, the long knives are out for Alberto Gonzales. That's a fact. But it's no excuse for making the kind of mistakes that gives your enemies the chance to use them.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.
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