Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar has never been a favorite of the more liberal Democrats. Although he has never presented himself as anything other than a moderate, Salazar has drawn the ire of liberals on many occasions for crossing the aisle while in the U.S. Senate. It is Salazar’s moderate credentials, however, that have made him such a success in spite of being a freshman Senator, and most of the time I have respected his decisions to be his own man rather than listen to the catcalls of those on the left.

Most of the time.

Salazar irritated many Democrats early in his term when he offered his support for Alberto Gonzales’ nomination for Attorney General despite the fact that most other Democratic Senators were staunchly opposed to Gonzales. But Salazar stood by Gonzales because they were friends, which was a courageous move to make. You may not have agreed with Salazar at the time, but for the most part you could understand where he was coming from.

I no longer understand where Salazar is coming from in regards to Gonzales.

Maybe you haven’t been keeping up with the U.S. attorney firing scandal surrounding Gonzales – and you’re forgiven if you haven’t, because there are so many Bush administration scandals these days that it’s hard to keep them straight – so here’s a quick recap: Gonzales has been besieged by critics for his role in the wake of revelations that eight U.S. attorneys were fired because they allegedly refused to participate in prosecution attempts aimed at discrediting Democratic candidates. Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and so infuriated many with his remarks that several Republican members of congress have now called for his resignation. As The Washington Post reported last week:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales came under withering attack from members of his own party yesterday over the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys, facing the first resignation demand from a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and doubts from others about his candor and his ability to lead the Justice Department.

Gonzales appeared frustrated, weary and at times combative during a five-hour Senate panel hearing that was widely considered crucial to his bid to hold on to his job. He sought to present a careful defense of the firings, apologizing for the way they were handled but defending them as the “right decision.”

“While the process that led to the resignations was flawed, I firmly believe that nothing improper occurred,” Gonzales said. “It would be improper to remove a U.S. attorney to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain. I did not do that. I would never do that.”

Yet the attorney general, who spent the past three weeks preparing for his testimony, struggled to recall key details of his involvement in the firings, including a pivotal conversation with President Bush.

Gonzales conceded that he never looked at the prosecutors’ performance reviews and did not know why two of them were being removed until after they were fired. He also said he did not remember a final high-level meeting in his office suite in November to discuss the firings, nor did he remember when he decided to carry out the dismissals.

“I recall making the decision,” Gonzales said at one point. “I don’t recall when the decision was made.”

The numerous uncertainties irritated many of the Republican committee members, who criticized Gonzales for bungling the dismissals and their aftermath, and questioned his apparent disconnection from the process. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the panel’s most conservative member, joined Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and other committee Democrats in calling on Gonzales to resign.

“I believe there’s consequences for mistakes. . . . And I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation,” Coburn said.

The sharp criticism from Coburn, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and other Republicans poses another difficult political challenge for Gonzales, who has been under siege by Democrats for weeks but has heard only a handful of Republicans call for him to step down.

I won’t say that Gonzales is guilty, but when your only defense boils down to repeatedly saying, “I don’t remember,” then you’ve pretty much conceded the benefit of the doubt. The calls for Gonzales head have only increased this week, including more critics from within the Republican Party, but in Colorado we have yet to hear from our only Democratic Senator, Ken Salazar.

Other than making a weak statement about Gonzales a few weeks ago, Salazar has been relatively quiet about the matter, and yesterday the liberal advocacy group Progress Now asked its supporters to kick the Senator in the ass. According to an e-mail sent out by Progress Now:

Many Republicans, including those who voted to confirm Gonzales, have joined Democrats in saying Gonzales should resign–including Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and John Sununu of New Hampshire, and others in the House including Rep. Tom Tancredo. (Boston Globe, 4/9/2007)

Yet Senator Ken Salazar most recenty stated he “has not decided whether to continue supporting” Gonzales. (Denver Post, 4/19/2007)

Join our petition to call on Senator Salazar to ask Gonzales to resign…

In fact, after taking the oath of office in January 2006, one of Salazar’s first official acts was to escort Gonzales to his Senate confirmation hearing for Attorney General. Salazar was one of only six Democrats to vote for Gonzales. (Rocky Mountain News, 3/20/2007)

Salazar supported him because Gonzales indicated to Salazar that he could “balance out the needs for national security” while “maintaining the important fundamental civil liberties of our nation.” (Congressional Quarterly, 1/8/2005)

The firing of the U.S. Attorneys is the latest in Gonzales’ horrific record on “important fundamental civil liberties.” In order to be credible we need to hold our elected officials, regardless of party, accountable when it comes to protecting our nation’s fundamental civil liberties.

Those are strong words coming from a group that is normally supportive of Salazar, but you can’t say he didn’t have it coming. Calling for Gonzales’ resignation is such a political no-brainer that I don’t understand why Salazar hadn’t done it before. He may have waited too long now, because even if he does issue the statement, it will look like he did so begrudgingly. Even so, the longer this goes on, the bigger the questions will get. What is Gonzales’ hold on Salazar? Does he have a stack of naked pictures of Salazar rolling around in a vat of Dairy Queen soft-serve?

Nobody who heard what Gonzales said (or, rather, refused to say) can honestly say that he defended himself well. At best, Gonzales is incompetent for not knowing what was happening; at worst, he was involved in the corruption. Salazar could have issued a statement calling for his resignation on Friday and nobody would have thought the worse of him. He could have said something like, I have stood by Alberto Gonzales from the beginning, but I cannot overlook the glaring inconsistencies in his testimony.

We’ve all had those friends whom we still supported even when they kept getting into trouble, but sometimes their troubles become big enough that they threaten to drag you down with them. When that happens, you have to cut them loose.

It’s an honorable thing to be your own man as a politician and to stand firm to your beliefs in the face of criticism from your base of supporters, but you also can’t miss an easy opportunity to appease your base when the chance becomes available. Gonzales tossed Salazar a big fat softball with his testimony last Thursday, and Salazar struck out looking.