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Bush justice is a national disgrace

From a career employee that started in 1981, we get this in an OpEd:

As a longtime attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, I can honestly say that I have never been as ashamed of the department and government that I serve as I am at this time.

The public record now plainly demonstrates that both the DOJ and the government as a whole have been thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriat e, unethical and indeed unlawful. The unconscionab le commutation of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s sentence, the misuse of warrantless investigativ e powers under the Patriot Act and the deplorable treatment of U.S. attorneys all point to an unmistakable pattern of abuse.

In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administrati on has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, internationa l law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematical ly undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountabili ty by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongerin g, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor “politics as usual,” but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate - which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

In more than a quarter of a century at the DOJ, I have never before seen such consistent and marked disrespect on the part of the highest ranking government policymakers for both law and ethics. It is especially unheard of for U.S. attorneys to be targeted and removed on the basis of pressure and complaints from political figures dissatisfied with their handling of politically sensitive investigatio ns and their unwillingnes s to “play ball.” Enough information has already been disclosed to support the conclusion that this is exactly what happened here, at least in the case of former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico (and quite possibly in several others as well). Law enforcement is not supposed to be a political team sport, and prosecutoria l independence and integrity are not “performance problems.”

In his long-awaited but uninformativ e testimony concerning the extraordinar y firings of U.S. attorneys, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales did not allay these concerns. Indeed, he faced a no-win situation. If he testified falsely regarding his alleged lack of recollection and lack of involvement, he perjured himself and lied to both Congress and the American people. On the other hand, if he told the truth, he clearly has been derelict in the performance of his duties and is not up to the job. Either way, his fitness to serve is now in doubt.

Tellingly, in his congressiona l testimony, D. Kyle Sampson (the junior aide to whom the attorney general delegated vast authority) expressed the view that the distinction between “performance ” consideratio ns and “political” consideratio ns was “largely artificial.” This attitude, however, is precisely the problem. The administrati on that Sampson served has elided the distinction between government performance and politics to an unparalleled extent (just as it has blurred the boundaries between the White House counsel’s office and the attorney general’s office). And it is no answer to say that U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president. The point that is lost on those who make this argument is that U.S. attorneys must not serve partisan purposes or advance a partisan agenda - which has nothing to do with requiring them to promote an administrati on’s legitimate policy priorities.

As usual, the administrati on has attempted to minimize the significance of its malfeasance and misfeasance, reciting its now-customar y “mistakes were made” mantra, accepting purely abstract responsibili ty without consequences for its actions, and making hollow vows to do better. However, the DOJ Inspector General’s Patriot Act report (which would not even have existed if the administrati on had not been forced to grudgingly accept a very modest legislative reporting requirement, instead of being allowed to operate in its preferred secrecy), the White House-DOJ e-mails, and now the Libby commutation merely highlight yet again the lawlessness, incompetence and dishonesty of the present executive branch leadership.

They also underscore Congress’ lack of wisdom in blindly trusting the administrati on, largely rubber-stamp ing its legislative proposals, and essentially abandoning the congressiona l oversight function for most of the last six years. These are, after all, the same leaders who brought us the WMD fiasco, the unnecessary and disastrous Iraq war, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, warrantless domestic NSA surveillance  , the Valerie Wilson leak, the arrest of Brandon Mayfield, and the Katrina response failure. The last thing they deserve is trust.

The sweeping, judicially unchecked powers granted under the Patriot Act should neither have been created in the first place nor permanently renewed thereafter, and the Act - which also contributed to the ongoing contretemps regarding the replacement of U.S. attorneys, by changing the appointment process to invite political abuse - should be substantiall y modified, if not scrapped outright. And real, rather than symbolic, responsibili ty should be assigned for the manifold abuses. The public trust has been flagrantly violated, and meaningful accountabili ty is long overdue. Officials who have brought into disrepute both the Department of Justice and the administrati on of justice as a whole should finally have to answer for it - and the misdeeds at issue involve not merely garden-varie ty misconduct, but multiple “high crimes and misdemeanors  ,” including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I realize that this constitution ally protected statement subjects me to a substantial risk of unlawful reprisal from extremely ruthless people who have repeatedly taken such action in the past. But I am confident that I am speaking on behalf of countless thousands of honorable public servants, at Justice and elsewhere, who take their responsibili ties seriously and share these views. And some things must be said, whatever the risk.

The views presented in this essay are not representati ve of the Department of Justice or its employees but are instead the personal views of its author.

John S. Koppel has been a civil appellate attorney with the Department of Justice since 1981.

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7 Responses to “Bush justice is a national disgrace”

  1. The author of the piece says this:
    "In more than a quarter of a century at the DOJ, I have never before seen such consistent and marked disrespect on the part of the highest ranking government policymakers for both law and ethics. It is especially unheard of for U.S. attorneys to be targeted and removed on the basis of pressure and complaints from political figures dissatisfied with their handling of politically sensitive investigatio ns and their unwillingnes s to “play ball.” "
    Oh really, I guess he forgets this then. From 1993 according to the WSJ:
    "Equally extraordinar y were the politics at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was investigatin g then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski  , and was "within 30 days" of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski  , who was shepherding the Clinton’s economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.
    Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons’ Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint "Friend of Bill" Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to "politicizin g" Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons."

  2. Although Bill Clinton ordered the wholesale removal of U.S. attorneys
    when he took office to remove Republican holdovers, his replacement
    appointees stayed for his second term." So what? The WSJ can paint it however they want Ronnie Reagan did the same damn thing, remove all his USA’s. But I suppose your ok with that? Is this tit for tat time? You sound like the republicans when confronted with the crap BushCo has done…they always start screaming but, but, but..CLINTON CLINTON CLINTON.  

  3. The firing of the USA’s is only a sympton of the disease that affects our DOJ manapp. There are plenty of actions undertaken by the DOJ that point to the politicaliza tion of that Dept. 

  4. Isn’t it amazing how Bush can never be defended in his own right. The defense we constantly hear is Clinton did this or Clinton did that. When you use the pot calling the kettle black defense you necessarly say you are just as wrong.

  5. Thank you Christopher. Two wrongs do not make a right in any sane conversation . 

  6. Dusty,Since when have we had sane conversation s around here? 

  7. Manapp, you really do put the sleazy in Sleazy con.  Rostenkowski served 15 of his 17 months.  Libby served none of his 2 1/2 years.  Every president fires USAs upon taking office and all the investigatio ns that were pending were completed, from those regarding Rostenkowski to those regarding Clinton himself.
    Sleazy, sleazy, sleazy, Manapp.

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