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Obstruction of Justice Is a Feature, Not a Bug, in Gonzales-Run DoJ

Brian Zick

Christy at firedoglake calls attention to an op-ed in The National Law Journal written by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic Senator from Rhode Island. • The attorney general does not respect his own institution. Time-honored traditions and practices of the Department of Justice, vital to the impartial administration of justice, have been gravely damaged. At least three — respect for career officials; careful policing of the boundary between the White House and the Justice Department; and selecting U.S. attorneys from the home district with full Senate confirmation — are bulwarks. The man who didn't care about or didn't notice their destruction is the wrong person to rebuild them. • Pettiness rules. A hallmark of incompetent leadership is excessive deference, and the tone of the Justice Department is sickening. A U.S. attorney promises he'll be "pleasant and respectful" to get a meeting with the deputy attorney general. Another assures Justice Department officials he's still a "company man." One is fired for asking for reconsideration of a death penalty decision. Another is fired for "poor judgment" in organizing a letter to the deputy attorney general that was "not welcome." It makes your skin crawl. • The standard he sets for his office is far too low. Gonzales' stated definition of what is "improper" for him and his underlings tracks the legal standard for criminal obstruction of justice: interference with a particular case for illegitimate purposes. Any partisan influence short of that is evidently OK with him. Former Attorney General Robert H. Jackson once noted that "the prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America." Any attempt to use or influence this enormous power for political purposes, no matter whether it's intended to affect a particular case, must be fiercely resisted. • White House political operatives were all over the U.S. attorney firing decision. The wall carefully bricked up over decades to block White House political influence within the Department of Justice has been knocked down. Based on sound experience, previous administrations narrowed the list of people at the White House and Justice Department who could talk about criminal cases to only four White House officials (including the president and vice president) and only three Justice Department officials (including the attorney general). Under Gonzales, it's now 417 and 42, and Rove is among the 417. • This problem will linger. The "consensus" management practiced by the attorney general leaves no person responsible for any decision, perhaps deliberately. Who decided, when and why, will take extensive investigative reconstruction. It won't go away. It may take a decade to repair the damage caused by Attorney General Gonzales, and every day that passes without his resignation is one more day before the repair is begun. But will he go? From the perspective of Bush administration officials, a wounded, grateful attorney general on a very short leash may be just what they want as they try to exit Washington without further indictments. But that's not the attorney general America needs to maintain the best traditions of the Department of Justice and assure the fair administration of justice in our country.

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