Yesterday Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee and was pushed hard by Republicans as well as Democrats on the panel about his role in the U.S. attorney firing scandal.
At about the same time, FBI agents raided the Patriot Insurance Agency in Sonoita. which is owned by Republican Congressman Rick Renzi's wife, Roberta Renzi. The raid was part of a far reaching corruption investigation of Renzi that was first reported on last fall. Renzi announced within hours after the raid occurred that he was resigning from the House Intelligence Committee.
This is important news, and very closely related to the Gonzales testimony. While the firings of seven of the eight attorneys may have been unethical, or may have (in the case of Carol Lam) been intended to punish the attorney for a past investigation of a Republican congressman, or in other cases to clear the position for a Karl Rove protege or to punish another attorney for moving too slowly on an investigation against a former top Democratic legislator in New Mexico, none of them is likely to actually be grounds for the filing of criminal charges.
On the other hand, the firing of Paul Charlton in Arizona is the case that is the most dangerous to Gonzales and the Justice Department. If it can be shown (as has recently been hinted at) that the firing of Charlton was explicitly for the purpose of obstructing, slowing down, derailing or otherwise interfering with the investigation of Congressman Renzi, then it would be grounds for the charge of Obstruction of Justice, which is a serious felony, and one which John Mitchell, another former Attorney General, went to prison for back in the Watergate era.
And that is why Republicans have begun to abandon Alberto Gonzales. They know the other seven firings are just 'window dressing.' The real smoking gun is likely to involve the Charlton firing and the Renzi investigation. If it were simply a matter of ethics charges or the Attorney General behaving in a more partisan manner than has been done in the past, which is what some on the right would want you to believe, then it is hard to see why Republicans on capitol hill (who are no stranger to partisan games themselves) would be abandoning him.
But it is more than this, and after a delay of several months, all of a sudden it looks like the Renzi investigation is moving forward again. Maybe Alberto Gonzales is realizing that he may have to walk the plank for Rick Renzi, and this may show that he is reconsidering whether he should or not.