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 a routine function within the executive branch.
Point 2: Nothing I have seen is going to save Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' job. The emails and memos I have seen portray him either to be completely out of touch with what was going on inside the Department of Justice or so politically savvy that he was able to protect himself in a way that beggars belief. There is no "smoking gun" document that makes Gonzales out to be a hero in all of this, no email or memo which makes it seem plausible that the process of firing the federal prosecutors was done in a way that would eventually protect the moving parties from the criticism they now are receiving.
Point 3: Even if you want to support Gonzales and his Justice Department officials, and even if you want to argue that the firings of the prosecutors was entirely correct, the emails and memos I have seen are untidy and embarrassing to most of those who sent and received them. There is also in them a creepy sense of control that Washington officials within the Department tried to exert over line prosecutors-- sending them draft resignation letters and press releases even. Now, I would not want my emails, professional or personal, to be dumped upon a cynical and critical world. But, still, these are and were government officials and they were, indeed, writing an official record of events. We have and had a right to expect better.
Point 4: Even as the Justice Department was dumping these documents upon the world, it was asserted an executive privilege to keep private other material and information that is relevant to the Congressional investigations now underway. You could argue, even, that the most interesting and relevant information is contained in the documents that were not turned over to Congress. This morning, for example, the Post reports that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case and by most accounts one of the best U.S. Attorneys in the country, was put into a "middle" category of competence by Justice Department officials. Two of the fired prosecutors also were in that category. But the Post didn't get this information from the public domain-- the information was leaked to the paper by an anonymous source who apparently had or has access to the secret information. Just imagine what else may be out there.
Point 5: Since when does and should a federal prosecutor get in trouble for "chafing" at centralized Justice Department policies? That apparently was one of the criteria that was used to detemrine which federal prosecutors were vulnerable. As one document released last night established, several of the prosecutor who ultimately were fired were punished because they were too gung-ho about a particular law enforcement approach called LinX (short for Law Enforcement Information Exchange). Seems to me that push-back and input from line prosecutors, who after all are the ones in the trenches in the war on terror, is a good thing, a healthy thing, a thing to be nourished and not punished. But it wasn't.
President Bush this morning reportedly called his old buddy Gonzales to reaffirm his support for the beleauged Attorney General. He is going to need it. Things aren't going to get better at the Justice Department in the wake of the release of the documents they are going to get worse.
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