By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Details, details. The critics of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are absolutely sure of his guilt in the matter of the fired U.S. attorneys. They're just not sure what he's guilty of.
Well, they had better figure it out fast. Gonzales testifies Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In an op-ed Sunday for The Washington Post, Gonzales admitted that he had "created confusion" with recent statements about the firings but insisted, "nothing improper occurred."
He wrote that he directed his former deputy chief of staff Kyle Sampson to initiate the process, that he knew it was occurring and that he approved the final recommendations -- but "did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign."
That won't satisfy the critics. Nothing will, absent Gonzales' head. To get it, they keep changing their line of attack.
First, the critics said that Gonzales didn't understand the difference between being the president's personal lawyer and being attorney general. Then, they said he had orchestrated a purge of dissidents to further political goals. Then, they said he lied to Congress. Then, they said he lied to the media. Then, they said he had been a bad manager. Then, they said he bungled the explanation of what happened and created the appearance of a scandal where there may not have been one in the first place.
For some conservatives, principle lost out to practicality. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich recently said the firings had wrecked Gonzales' credibility and that the administration would be better served by "a new team at the Justice Department."
Perfect. Liberals have spent more than a month slinging mud at Gonzales, and now weak-kneed conservatives are giving in and saying that maybe the attorney general should go because: "Look, he's covered in mud!"
As it happens, some of that mud has come from the get-Gonzales faction of the Fourth Estate.
Recently, The Washington Post reported that Gonzales had "retreated from public view ... in an intensive effort to save his job, spending hours practicing testimony and phoning lawmakers for support in preparation for pivotal appearances in the Senate."
Time out. The Washington Post and the rest of the media have repeatedly insisted that Thursday's testimony is "make or break" for Gonzales. If so, why wouldn't he prepare for it?
Then there is Andrew Cohen, who has been covering this story on a Washington Post blog that serves as a sort of deathwatch anticipating Gonzales' demise. Cohen called it a "disgrace" that Gonzales is so heavily immersed in preparing his testimony that he "isn't working full-time for you or for me" but "working instead to save his professional hide."
Come again? One of the most common arguments you hear from Gonzales' critics is that he can't be effective on the job while this cloud hangs overhead. So shouldn't lifting the cloud be his No. 1 priority? And when he tries to do that, they blast him.
I've said all along that Gonzales deserves a fair hearing. Thursday, he'll get the hearing. But, so far, no sign of the fairness.
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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