The experts also varied in their opinions on whether his home-state bar association might ever be moved by a formal complaint by a fellow attorney—a necessary step towards disbarment—to act against Mr. Gonzales, who was a board director for the State Bar of Texas from 1991 to 1994.
“The state-bar associations are never going to take the lead unless Congress does something,” said Charles Silver, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not like it was with President Clinton.”
(Because he lied when testifying about the Monica Lewinsky affair, Mr. Clinton’s Arkansas law license was suspended for five years from the time he stepped down as President.)
“A lot depends on how things play out,” said Mr. Silver.
“It’s possible—I don’t think it’s probable,” said Ms. Rapoport. “Any lawyer is allowed to rat on another lawyer for a serious violation of the ethics rules. But you have to know that the person did it. You know how lawyers get about knowing: ‘I have a belief that he might have, but I don’t really know.’”
For now, Mr. Gonzales isn’t conceding any wrongdoing.
“After several hours of testimony last week by Monica Goodling, more than 6,800 pages and an additional 1,500 pages made available to Congress, two extensive public hearings with the Attorney General, and many hours of interviews and testimony from senior Department of Justice officials,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, “it remains clear that the Attorney General did not ask for the resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain.”
Of course, with a no-confidence vote on Mr. Gonzales planned for next month in the Senate and the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Arlen Specter, predicting that Mr. Gonzales would resign before then, the status of Mr. Gonzales’ law license may be the least of his problems.
In gripping testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 15, former Justice Department official James Comey described a standoff in the hospital room of then–Attorney General John Ashcroft. President Bush was seeking the reauthorization of the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program. Mr. Comey, then the acting Attorney General, had already refused to recertify the program because of concerns about its legality. But according to Mr. Comey, Mr. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, had raced to Mr. Ashcroft’s bedside to circumvent the department’s ruling.
For Mr. Gillers, this was an obvious example of obstruction of justice, a crime also forbidden by D.C. bar regulations. In his view, the Department of Justice had already deemed the program illegal. “By seeking to advance an illegal scheme with the advantage of D.O.J. approval,” he wrote, “Gonzales seriously interfered with the administration of justice.”
Meanwhile, the debate continues. “What I’m seeing is two people, they’re all in the executive branch, they’re talking, they’re not threatening, they can disagree with each other, they both report to the President,” said Ms. Rapoport of Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Gonzales. “I don’t see obstruction here.”