Archive: March 2007

Boldly (and Badly) Going Where no White House Has Gone Before

Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine and a former Justice Department official during the Reagan administration, has an interesting op-ed today in the Los Angeles Times entlted "In Defense of Gonzales." It is well worth reading. Kmiec argues that beleagued Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has "precedent and the Constitution on his side" when he testifies on April 17th before the Senate Judiciary Commitee. Why? Because, Kmiec argues, the law allows the President and the Attorney wide latitude in firing political appointees when they fail to meet policy objectives. Furthermore, he adds, there is no legal or political precedent for having an Attorney General who is independent from presidential direction. Even if that is all true-- and Kmiec is a serious player among former federal officials-- it still does not explain why the current administration was willing to do last year-- fire eight U.S. Attorneys last year-- what...

By Andrew Cohen | March 31, 2007; 8:18 AM ET | Comments (60)

Gonzales Invokes the Homer Simpson Defense

You just cannot make this stuff up. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, spends much of his Thursday deflating his former boss' story about the eight fired U.S. Attorneys and how does the Attorney General respond? By issuing a written statement late in the day that essentially says this: Yes, Sampson may have been keeping me in the loop on the firings after all but I wasn't really paying attention ("never focused" was the exact phrase) to what he was saying. It's the Homer Simpson defense to the Kyle Sampson story and if this were a Little League game they would have invoked the 10-run rule by now and sent Gonzales go home to Texas to once again become a lucrative private attorney. But, alas, the Attorney General is still with us, at least for today, his credibility and reputation tattered and the wolves-- not...

By Andrew Cohen | March 30, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (47)

With Friends Like These, Gonzales Doesn't Need More Enemies

So far to me the most memorable moment of D. Kyle Sampson's testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee wasn't his stark and damning statement that his former boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was far more involved in the U.S. Attorney scandal than the latter has so far acknowledged. Instead, my moment of zen in all of this came later, during the afternoon, when Sampson testified that he briefly suggested to his bosses that they fire Patrick J. Fitzgerald, then the special prosecutor in the CIA Leak case and still one of the best federal prosecutors in the nation. Sampson was asked: Why did you make that suggestion? And he responded: Because i wanted to get a reaction from high-ranking officials, including then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. I immediately regretted the comment, Sampson told the legislators, but, really, this is what passed for leadership and policy at the Justice Department...

By Andrew Cohen | March 29, 2007; 3:29 PM ET | Comments (22)

Save Gonzales? Blame Sampson

Yesterday was a day for even more apologies and finger-pointing from the Justice Department and a tactical retreat and retrenchment from the man who now (rightly or wrongly) appears destined to be portrayed as the symbol of the ever-evolving controversy surrounding the dimissal of eight U.S. Attorneys last year. And today? Today reckons to be one of the most dramatic yet in this sorry saga as D. Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, testifies under oath and in public before Congress about his role in the affair. Sampson intends to tell Congress, and the rest of us, that the decision by the White House and Justice Department to fire the prosecutors was political after all, and not based upon "job performance" the way most of us would understand the way that phrase is commonly used in the context of employment duties. Political loyalty is fully part of a...

By Andrew Cohen | March 29, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (14)

Time Out From Gonzales for an anti-MLB Rant

I hope you all will forgive me for taking a day off from the U.S. Attorney scandal (we are in a pre-Kyle Sampson lull anyway) to focus instead on what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) chaired a Commerce Committee meeting to investigate the greedy, short-sighted deal Major League Baseball cut with DirecTV to give the satellite provider exclusive rights to show out-of-market baseball games this year under a pay service called "Extra Innings." There are a few legal issues involved, most of which are so complicated that they aren't worth getting into here. The reason I care about this topic is that I am one of the hundreds of thousands of people who would have to switch from cable or Dish TV to DirecTV just to watch my favorite baseball team play. No big deal, right? Right. I concede that in the grand scope of...

By Andrew Cohen | March 28, 2007; 8:39 AM ET | Comments (42)

Getting Worse for Gonzales and his Justice Department

The Attorney General of the United States is caught in a political and legal vise of logic. The harder he tries to wiggle out of it the more squeezed he becomes and the more uncomfortable we all should feel about his continued presence as the nation's top lawyer. Even though it makes perfect sense to presume that the head of the Justice Department would have been closely involved in a decision to fire eight federal prosecutors-- how many bosses aren't closely involved in decisions to fire their most important employees?-- if Alberto R. Gonzales now concedes that he was intimately involved in the decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys last fall he will directly contradict his early statements on the matter. He will be branded a liar (but not a fink) and his career in public service almost certainly will end despite the support he apparently still continues to have...

By Andrew Cohen | March 26, 2007; 10:32 PM ET | Comments (47)

Going After The Gang That Couldn't Fire Straight

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, always seems to know how to slice one more piece of carpaccio from the body of a controversy. So, Sunday, rather than simply coming out and saying that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for his role in Firegate has an enormous credibility, integrity, and honesty problem with leaders of his own party (never mind the rest of us), Sen. Specter said this on NBC's Meet the Press: "Look, we have to have an attorney general who is candid and truthful... And if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on." I don't know if Sen. Specter's committee will ultimately "find" that Gonzales has "not been candid and truthful." When the Attorney General testifies next month, he is likely to try to wiggle out of the latest...

By Andrew Cohen | March 26, 2007; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (45)

Gonzales And His "I Did Not Have Sex With That Woman" Moment

If, as the Cowboy Junkies memorably sing, "good news sleeps 'till noon," than a cardinal rule of politics and journalism is that bad news is dumped upon the collective doorsteps of the nation's media outlets late in the evening on a Friday, when the weekend news cycle already has clicked in and the attention of news consumers is likely to be elsewhere. We've seen it over and over again and we saw it Friday night, when the Justice Department tried (but clearly failed) to whisper to the rest of the world the news that Alberto Gonzales was more closely involved in the firing last December of eight U.S. Attorneys than he told us he was last week. If the Attorney General's reputation and status were shaky before this latest revelation, surely this morning they are downright dissolved. Why? Because now he is established in the court of public opinion if...

By Andrew Cohen | March 24, 2007; 7:56 AM ET | Comments (75)

The Long Knives Are Out for Gonzales

Over the past 24 hours it has become clear that there is an internal struggle within the White House over the fate of the hapless Attorney General. Yes, it is true that the only man who truly counts, President George W. Bush, is firmly behind his old friend Alberto R. Gonzales. But a few pay grades below, the battle roils on. Yesterday, we were told by some in the pro-Gonzales camp that the Attorney General indeed has a spine and was even willing to stand up to his boss on the issue of an investigation into the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. But this morning, the anti-Alberto faction struck back. The New York Times has a big and important story reporting that Gonzales recently argued against closing the Guantanamo Bay terror detainee facility even though the new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, suggested that it be done. Here is how...

By Andrew Cohen | March 23, 2007; 8:03 AM ET | Comments (15)

The Alberto Gonzales Magical Mystery Tour

With his stock plummeting in Washington, and with the controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors looking to get worse before it gets better (ready, aim, subpoena!), Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has decided to do what any hapless pol would have decided to do: he's getting out of dodge for a few days to try to "rally his troops." Well, not exactly "rally" since he reportedly intends to apologize to U.S. Attorneys around the country (not for the firings themselves but) for the way his Justice Department (and theirs) handled the dismissal of eight of their colleagues. And not exactly "troops" since if we have learned anything yet from this lame episode it is that the Attorney General was nowhere close to the kind of "general" his so-called "troops" (line prosecutors) deserved to have when the going got rough for them late last year. Taking advantage of the...

By Andrew Cohen | March 22, 2007; 7:57 AM ET | Comments (25)

White House Wins on Law, Loses on Politics

Welcome to the morning after or, as I should say, the first morning after, since we all appear destined now to head into a period of political and legal brinksmanship over the investigation into the firing last December of eight federal prosecutors. Even as I type this, Congressional Democrats are preparing subpoenas to launch at the White House while executive branch lawyers are poised in the castle to respond with court action. Alas, I wish this looming conflict would just go away-- that a few grown-ups on each side of the debate would step forward and broker a deal (this deal) that would give the Congress what it wants, protect executive privilege, ensure the removal of the hapless attorney general, and allow us all to move beyond the controversy to greener pastures. Would that it be so. Instead, I offer my two cents worth, briefly for now, on what we...

By Andrew Cohen | March 21, 2007; 9:40 AM ET | Comments (31)

Documents Dumped, Questions Remain

I haven't perused all 3,000 or so documents released late last night by the Justice Department as part of its effort to stem the riptide of recriminations over the firing of eight federal prosecutors last December. But I feel like I have seen enough of the documents to make the following five points. Point 1: The document dump in no way is going to make this controversy go away. In fact, it is much more likely to grow even larger as new questions are raised by the factual nuggets contained in the material. Why? Because even if you believe entirely the story that White House and Justice Department officials now are offering in their own defense the email exchanges between them, those that we have been able to see anyway, show a level of confusion and uncertainty that belies any claim that these dismissals were ordinary, typical and part of...

By Andrew Cohen | March 20, 2007; 8:08 AM ET | Comments (17)

Gonzales Series: Vox Pop Postscript

Our just-completed four-part series "Rough Justice"-- on Alberto Gonzales and the office of Attorney General of the United States-- sure did come at the right time, didn't it? My bosses and I here at washpost.com started talking it about it only a few weeks ago, just at the very start of the latest controversy over the White House/Justice Department firing of eight federal prosecutors. I was hoping to be ahead of the curve by a week or so. Turns out we were struggling to catch up with that curve. Even as I was writing it, last weekend and into last week, the story burgeoned into what it is today-- a very big deal that is likely to get bigger if and when people like Karl Rove and Harriet Miers are subpoenaed. The series generated a lot of comments, not just below, but on other sites as well. Some readers were...

By Andrew Cohen | March 19, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

Part IV: The Case for Attorney General Patrick Fitzgerald

If Nixon could go to China, and if Reagan could make peace with the Soviets, then for the good of the nation President Bush surely could embrace White House nemesis Patrick J. Fitzgerald and install him as Attorney General.

By Andrew Cohen | March 16, 2007; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (92)

Part III: Alberto Gonzales: The "Empty Suit" AG

Gonzales is to the Justice Department, and to the Constitution, what former FEMA chief Michael Brown was to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

By Andrew Cohen | March 15, 2007; 9:06 AM ET | Comments (61)

Part II: Alberto Gonzales, Presidential Enabler

Let's leave it to former White House counsel John Dean to sum up Gonzales' qualifications before he took over as Attorney General. Dean told me in an email earlier this week: "Frankly, I have a degree of sympathy for Alberto Gonzales, who I suspect is a terrific Texas real estate attorney."

By Andrew Cohen | March 14, 2007; 10:06 AM ET | Comments (72)

Part I: Alberto Gonzales: A Willing Accessory at Justice

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is the 80th attorney general of the United States and if recent events in the law and at the Justice Department are any indication, he is rapidly staking a claim to being among the worst.

By Andrew Cohen | March 13, 2007; 12:47 PM ET | Comments (147)

Rough Justice: The Case Against Alberto Gonzales

About this series: This is a four-part series on Alberto R. Gonzales and his role as Attorney General of the United States. Part I looks at the role of the Attorney General in American history, about current perceptions about that role, and Gonzales' view of it. Part II looks at Gonzales' record before he assumed office in 2005. Part III looks at Gonzales' record as Attorney General and the final part in the series focuses upon the candidates for his successor....

By Andrew Cohen | March 13, 2007; 12:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

Big Win for Gun Rights' Advocates With More Fights to Come

Gun rights' advocates scored a major victory this morning when a divided panel of federal judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the District of Columbia's gun control laws violate the individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Here is how the Court's majority framed its conclusion: "To summarize, we conclude that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. That right existed prior to the formation of the new government under the Constitution and was premised on the private use of arms for activities such as hunting and self-defense, the latter being understood as resistance to either private lawlessness or the depredations of a tyrannical government (or a threat from abroad). In addition, the right to keep and bear arms had the important and salutary civic purpose of helping to preserve the citizen militia. The civic purpose was also a...

By Andrew Cohen | March 9, 2007; 11:46 AM ET | Comments (8)

The Department of InJustice

The New York Times this morning reports that "violent crime in cities" showed a "sharp surge" over the past two years. Kate Zernike writes: "While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials have been warning of a rise in murder, robbery and gun assaults since late 2005, particularly in midsize cities and the Midwest. Now, they say, two years of data indicates that the spike is more than an aberration." Is it a coincidence that this two-year period coincides roughly with Alberto Gonzales' tenure as Attorney General of the United States? Probably. But that makes the Justice Department's recent woes no less outrageous. While murder rates rise sharply, our Justice Department plays loosey-goosey with ethical rules and allows good, decent U.S. Attorneys-- the backbone of the federal justice system-- to be replaced by political hacks chosen by the White House. While meth use in the nation's heartland increases, our...

By Andrew Cohen | March 9, 2007; 9:30 AM ET | Comments (20)

A Good Week on the Horse Front

Let us now finally move past the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury and obstruction of justice trial. All I had and have to say about it I already have said here and here and here and here. His new trial motion will fail. He will be given a prison sentence. He will remain free on bond pending appeal. His appeal will fail. He will go to prison. He will probably be pardoned after the presidential election and before President Bush leaves office. Enough said. Let us instead focus upon the two bits of very good news this week on a subject that loyal readers know is near and dear to my heart-- stopping the slaughter of our horses for human consumption. The House Natural Resources Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would "reinstate a ban on the commercial sale and senseless slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros" that roam...

By Andrew Cohen | March 8, 2007; 9:08 AM ET | Comments (1)

Another Under-Told Iraq Story

We are still waiting for a verdict in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury and obstruction trial so in the meantime I want to bring your attention to a series of issues to which I was drawn over the weekend. Thanks to the good folks at Discover magazine, especially Patti Adcroft and Michael Mason, we now know much, much more about how our government is letting down our soldiers when it comes to treating the brain injuries they have suffered in Iraq. In a piece entitled, "Dead Men Walking," Mason tells us that as many as 7,500 soldiers may have undiagnosed "traumatic brain injury" as a result of those Improvised Explosive Devices which are the weapon of choice for Iraqi insurgents. Here is more from Mason: "The lifetime cost of care for brain-injured troops could reach 35 billion, according to a Nobel prize-winning economist." He notes that while the military...

By Andrew Cohen | March 5, 2007; 10:39 AM ET | Comments (19)

When Jurors Take Their Time

We ask these people-- well, no, we tell these people-- to sacrifice their careers and their families and their lives for a few weeks or months, for little or no pay, all in the name of justice, whatever that really means. We herd them from room to room inside a courthouse, nag at them not to break any of the rules, and shove at them incoherent instructions preceded by waves of queasy witnesses and ambiguous testimony. And then we expect them to be Delphic Oracles, separating out from the morass of evidence nuances of truth and wisdom. Today I speak of the 4 men and 7 women who are determining the fate of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby at his perjury and obstruction of justice trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. But I can just as easily be speaking of the thousands of other jurors around the country who this...

By Andrew Cohen | March 2, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

 

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