Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fire Alberto Gonzales

Lawyers and political scientists who really believe that a clear distinction exists between law and politics are usually the first to express outrage over the bad behavior of political appointees who have some sort of high-level legal portfolio in the Department of Justice. The last 40 years or so have seen some pretty bad and in some cases spectacularly unqualified hacks serve as Attorney General, the most important position in the Department of Justice. Perhaps the worst of the lot was John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon's first Attorney General. For his role in the Watergate scandal and other matters he once called "the White House horrors," Mitchell went to jail for nineteen months, making him the first Attorney General to do time. The Reagan administration featured Ed Meese, who spent most of his time as Attorney General attempting to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion, affirmative action, civil rights law, church-state separation and much, much more in the name of a politically concocted theory of "original intent." To hear Meese tell it, the Framers envisioned a world that was pretty much consistent with . . . you guessed it, the Republican Party platform. He also had considerable ethical problems, getting caught up in the Iran-contra and Wedtech scandals. The former, of course, involved the famous "arms for hostages" deal with Iran, in which money secured from the sale of forbidden arms to Iran would be channeled to the contra rebels in Nicarauga, and hostages being held in Lebanon by a pro-Iranian terrorist group would be released. Just after Meese came under investigation for his role in that blatantly illegal transaction, he was investigated for helping rig a defense contract for Wedtech, a defense contractor the Army considered "unqualified" to bid an an Army helicopter project. Meese would resign with all these charges hanging over him, yet never admitted he did anything wrong, even though the special prosecutors hired to investigate his role in these matters concluded that he did.

And then there is John Ashcroft, who resurrected the Attorney General as a political point-man for the Bush administration after the relatively non-controversial tenures of his predecessors in the Clinton and Bush I administrations. The less said about him the better. Here was a man who fashioned himself as Eliot Ness acting on instructions from God, and instead came off as a poor imitation of a Leslie Nielsen's character from The Naked Gun movies.

But what does it say about Alberto Gonzales, a man criticized by conservatives as too liberal to serve on the Supreme Court, that he makes Ashcroft look absolutely tame by comparison. The New York Times March 11 editorial calling for his firing nailed Gonzales's failures since taking the nation's top law enforcement post two years ago. It is startling to read the laundry list of the truly abominable positions that he has taken and/or chosen to enforce. His record was bad enough prior to the recent disclosure that the White House leaned on the Justice Department, with Gonzales's full blessing, to fire eight fully qualified and accomplished United States attorneys for no other reason than they had not, in the administration's view, carried out overtly partisan tasks either quickly enough or had simply chosen not to do so. The news out of the Justice Department just gets worse and worse.

During Ed Meese's final days, William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts who then served as head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, resigned in protest over his boss's ethical transgressions. Other career lawyers left the department in droves over the administration's policies and lack of ethics. But in Bushworld, no one leaves. They stay, and stay, and stay, and just make things worse and worse. Wait . . . this just in: Gonzales admits that "mistakes were made" in the handling of the personnel matters involving the targeted U.S. attorneys. So here we go -- the passive-voice admission of no-admission. This man has spent his career enabling George W. Bush. From his resume and his public speeches, he does not strike me as bright enough to come up with these outrageous ideas on his own. He is a career bag carrier, a Yes-Man who traded whatever exists of his political conscience a long time ago for access to powerful people.

For so many reasons, Bush should fire him. Gonzales was spectacularly unqualified to serve as Attorney General when he was nominated. But because Bush has no ethical compass he cannot see the problems that are now before him in the matter of the Gonzales 8. 678 days until these bastards are gone . . . but who is counting?

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