Hastert's letter to Gonzales was the culmination of a day-long evolution of the Republican strategy toward dealing with the scandal. On yesterday morning's "This Week" on ABC, White House counselor Dan Bartlett defended the House GOP leadership directing the investigation into how the scandal was handled.
"The leadership appear to be very aggressive in pursuing this investigation, and I think that's the best place is for the leadership to determine the way forward," Bartlett said.
But by midday, on CNN's "Late Edition," Bartlett had joined calls by Democrats and some Republicans for a criminal investigation of the matter. "If you take the allegations at face value, I think there would have to be at least a preliminary look to see if there's any breaking of criminal law," he said. Hours later, Hastert called for the Justice Department investigation.
The changes in course were in keeping with a Republican plan to stay ahead of Democratic attacks and to show a willingness to let impartial investigators pursue the matter. On Friday night, when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took the House floor to demand an investigation by the ethics committee, GOP leaders quickly agreed and the motion passed unanimously.
The mere fact that they are avoiding even the appearance of foot-dragging indicates that the GOP now realizes how serious this is. For Republicans, stone-walling is as natural as breathing, and for them to be trying to rush out ahead of the Dems on this issue means they know how much trouble they're in over this.