ALBERTO’S LEGAL BILLS…. As has been well documented, “loyal Bushies” in the Justice Department engaged in systematic discrimination against those they perceived as possible liberals. As part of this record, eight people who were turned down for the Department’s Honor Program and Summer Law Intern Program believe ideology drove the decision-making process, and have filed a lawsuit.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is, not surprisingly, a key part of the case, and has hired private counsel to represent him. As it turns out, according to a McClatchy report, the Justice Department — and by extension, taxpayers — are paying $24,000 a month for Gonzales’ defense. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) yesterday asked Michael Mukasey to describe the expenditures, and explain why the spending has been hidden from public view.

It’s a good question. The New York Times had a good editorial on this a few days ago.

We have long wanted Mr. Gonzales to be held accountable for his disastrous tenure as attorney general. His prosecutors brought a series of cases that helped Republicans win elections and hurt Democrats. They put Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin civil servant, in jail on spurious charges for four months after she refused to implicate her state’s Democratic governor in a baseless corruption investigation.

Still, Mr. Gonzales is entitled to appropriate legal representation. According to Stephen Gillers, a New York University Law School ethics expert, there are legitimate reasons the government may want him to have a private lawyer. As the case proceeds, for example, Mr. Gonzales and the government might want to stake out different positions on the law or facts of the case.

That does not absolve the department of its obligation to let the public know whether it is paying for a private lawyer, and if so, why it is making these unusual accommodations. It also should let taxpayers know how much they can expect to spend on the former attorney general’s defense.

It’s hardly an unreasonable request. It’s bad enough Americans are paying for Gonzales’ attorneys; to do it in secret adds insult to injury.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.