Archive: April 2007

Chalk One Up for The Good Guys

After reading this Bench Conference post last week, Justice Department officials conceded defeat and reinstated traditional hiring policies for baby lawyers and interns. No? Okay, how about this. Bowing to political reality, caught red-handed trying to further politicize the Department of Justice, and unwilling to give further ammunition to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' growing number of critics, partisan loyalists at Justice decided the fight over who gets to pick the summer interns and how just wasn't worth fighting at this time. Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein over the weekend reported that: "The Justice Department is removing political appointees from the hiring process for rookie lawyers and summer interns, amid allegations that the Bush administration had rigged the programs in favor of candidates with connections to conservative or Republican groups, according to documents and officials.... Justice officials strongly deny that political or partisan factors play any role in who is...

By Andrew Cohen | April 30, 2007; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (22)

Gonzales Offers No "Pleasure for the President"

If America received a dollar over the past few months every time some White House official said the phrase "U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President" our nation's debt would be gone. The great Jon Stewart even made fun of the phrase last month. So when President George W. Bush this week went back to the phrase, and then tried to defend his indefensible attorney general, it got me thinking: what sort of pleasure could Alberto R. Gonzales possibly be giving the President these days? And, no, this isn't a wind-up to some lame off-color joke. Surely the President is receiving no pleasure from the fact that the scandal over the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys could have a negative impact on pending and future federal cases brought by the Justice Department. Surely the President is receiving no pleasure from the fact that day by day Republican...

By Andrew Cohen | April 27, 2007; 7:34 AM ET | Comments (144)

Robert Novak is Right* and Monica is on Her Way

As if the continuous defection of Republican lawmakers from the camp of Alberto R. Gonzales wasn't a bad enough sign for the Attorney General, today comes word that the grandaddy of all conservative columnists, Robert D. Novak, also is abandoning ship. In today's Post he notes that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel this week began a new investigation into allegations that the White House illegally participated in the firing of one of the U.S. Attorneys. And has these (familiar to those of you who read Bench Conference) things to say about Gonzales: "While the current cliche is that Bush never should have named Gonzales attorney general in the first place, the consensus in the administration was that Gonzales also was at sea in his first post, as White House counsel. Colin Powell, Bush's first-term secretary of state, was so appalled by Gonzales that he shunted contact with him off...

By Andrew Cohen | April 26, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (73)

'Get Out Get Out Now' Is the Message to Gonzales

"I don't think the attorney general has served the country or the president particularly well," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the Washington Post Tuesday. "I think there is a huge credibility issue at the Justice Department," added Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn), "I continue, even after his (Alberto R. Gonzales') testimony, to have grave doubts." Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) added a temporal component to his concerns. "I think the attorney general is on a tightrope and he and the president need to make a decision before very long," he said. "He's a distraction," added presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, another prominent and well-respected Republican. Another day, another flock of Republicans fleeing the scene of the car wreck that is the Gonzales' Justice Department. What is particuarly interesting about the fact that this quartet of Republicans chose Tuesday to speak out against the Attorney General is that a day earlier both Gonzales and...

By Andrew Cohen | April 25, 2007; 7:44 AM ET | Comments (58)

Believe Who? The President or Your Own Eyes?

The art of politics, I suppose, is the art of trying to convince someone of something that you yourself don't really believe; to convince someone that they ought to believe you and not their own lying eyes. I know this but I still cringe whenever I hear a politician say something totally at odds with objective reality. I cringe because I consider it a waste of my time to be listening to it and a waste of the speaker's time in saying it. And so it was Monday that President George W. Bush said that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' performance last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee "increased" the President's "confidence" that Gonzales can continue to do his job as the nation's chief law enforcement official. He is an "honest" and "honorable man," President Bush said, and the hearings and investigations into the U.S. Attorney scandal have not demonstrated...

By Andrew Cohen | April 23, 2007; 10:15 AM ET | Comments (90)

The Revolt of the Working Class at Justice

Lost last week amid the fire and storm of bigger news-- Virginia Tech, abortion, etc.-- was the revelation of yet another layer of inappropriate partisanship at the Justice Department. If there were any lingering doubt before about the extent to which its current crop of leaders are trying to douse the Department with one particular ideology at the expense of others, and to undermine intellectual rigor and independence in doing so, it now ought to be erased completely by the story of how Republican cronies at Justice are skewing long-standing (and sensible) hiring practices to bring to the Department a new generation of crony wannabes. Even as they dilute the work of nonpartisan career professionals (and U.S. Attorneys) by politicizing the "grown-up" staff at Justice, officials there also apparently have turned their greedy eyes to the Department's student "Honors Program" and "Summer Law Internship Program." The Attorney General and his...

By Andrew Cohen | April 23, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (34)

The Right Also Sees Wrong in Attorney General

Early this week, long before his testimony (see below) before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales received a letter from the American Freedom Agenda, a group comprised of a few heavy-hitting conservatives. A mash note designed to steady Gonzales before his appearance before the Committee? Nope. A tepid show of support for the embattled Attorney General by his political allies? Nope. A biting demand that he resign? You got it. "Mr. Gonzales has presided over an unprecedented crippling of the Constitution's time-honored checks and balances," the authors wrote. "He has brought the rule of law into disrepute, and debased honesty as the coin of the realm. He has engendered the suspicion that partisan politics trumps evenhanded law enforcement in the Department of Justice.... In sum, he has proven an unsuitable steward of the law and should resign for the good of the country." If the Attorney General...

By Andrew Cohen | April 20, 2007; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (57)

Out of Touch, Out of Line and Running Out of Time

If there was one single moment in this morning's testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee that encapsulates the sheer gall and shamelessness of the man in the hot seat, it occurred at about 10:52 when he said that questions about "partisan politics" within the Justice Department actually are an insult to (and criticism of) the career attorneys who bring controversial cases. For that cruelly cynical statement alone-- pretending that legitimate criticism of his own failed leadership as Attorney General actually is instead unfair criticism of some of the victims within the Justice Department-- Gonzales deserves to be fired. Not in a month. Not in a week. Today. Gonzales said precisely this: "Because, when you attack the department for being partisan, you're really attacking the career professionals. They're the ones, the investigators, the prosecutors, the assistant U.S. attorneys, they're the ones doing the work." And,...

By Andrew Cohen | April 19, 2007; 2:00 PM ET | Comments (77)

In Abortion Battle, the Tie Went to the Congress

Legal scholars and historians are going to be fighting for decades over the scope and meaning of yesterday's big abortion ruling. Journalists already are offering their own perspectives on one of the biggest cases of the term and certainly the biggest victory for anti-abortion advocates in a generation. And of course the rest of you already seem to be fighting over it (if the comments to my last post are any indication). Me? Putting aside the emotional nature of this debate for partisans on both sides, I find the most fascinating aspect of the ruling to be the way the Court's majority upheld the federal ban against these sorts of abortion procedures despite the fact that no fewer than three different trial judges, and three separate appellate courts, determined after three hotly-contested trials that the procedure in question often is the most appropriate medical procedure. In other words, when given...

By Andrew Cohen | April 18, 2007; 10:22 PM ET | Comments (16)

Abortion Ruling Is All About Alito

This is why presidential elections matter even if and when you don't particularly like one candidate or the other. The re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 begat the nomination to the United States Supreme Court of Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Justice Alito's ascenion to the High Court last year begat today a landmark abortion ruling that anti-abortion advocates have pushed to get for years. You can spin this any other way you want but in the end it comes down to a simple matter of personnel. Justice Alito was willing and able to go in the law where his predecessor, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wasn't. And, as a result, doctors in this country now may be sent to federal prison for performing a type of abortion procedure even if those doctors believe that a woman's health would be jeopardized by not having the procedure. As the...

By Andrew Cohen | April 18, 2007; 2:20 PM ET | Comments (67)

There is Irony in the Tragedy at Virginia Tech

Now is not the time, in my view, to begin another round of endless debate over gun control and gun rights in this country. In the wake of the unimaginable tragedy at Virginia Tech, now is the time to bury the dead, to console and comfort the friends and family of the victims, and to nurture and encourage the survivors of the worst gun spree in American history. There will be plenty of time in the coming weeks and months for a new national conversation about why we do this to one another, so often it seems, and with such spasms of anger and violence and destruction. Nearly eight years to the day after the Columbine High School killings in Colorado, we will again be forced by the painful images beamed to us from Virginia this week to confront the nature of sudden death being sprung upon our young, our...

By Andrew Cohen | April 17, 2007; 8:27 AM ET | Comments (97)

Gonzales Abandoned, From Within and Without

You don't have to believe me when I tell you, as I have for the past few months, that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has made trying times at the Justice Department measurably worse with his failed leadership and intellectual rigor and fairness. You now can also believe Daniel Metcalfe, a former Justice Department official who began his career there during the Nixon Administration. Metcalfe this week tells the Legal Times' Tony Mauro that Team Gonzales "shattered" the independence of the Justice Department with short-sighted political policies. "It becamse quite clear that under Gonzales, the department placed no more than secondary value on the standards that I and my office had valued so heavily for the preceding 25 years -- accuracy, integrity, responsibility and quality of decision-making being chief among them," Metcalfe told Mauro. Do yourself a favor and read the entire interview. It is a fascinating indictment of the...

By Andrew Cohen | April 15, 2007; 5:44 PM ET | Comments (34)

The Not-So-Dirty, Not-So-Bomber Comes to Court

Nearly five years after he was nabbed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago and identified to the world as a "dirty-bomb" plotter by an over-caffeinated attorney general, Jose Padilla finally is on the cusp of facing a jury of his peers. Nearly five years after he was designated an "enemy combatant" by President Bush and held incommunicado and without charges until the Supreme Court essentially forced his release from military custody, the American people finally will begin to learn precisely how strong is the case against this eerie American man, this former street thug, who is now charged with participating not in a radiological bomb plot but in a far less nefarious terror conspiracy of which he was, even by the government's own disclosed evidence, sort of a bit player. Jury selection in federal court in Miami begins Monday and it shapes up to be a fascinating component to this terror...

By Andrew Cohen | April 15, 2007; 4:00 PM ET | Comments (11)

The Bench Conference is Off Today

Good morning. Alas, no substantive Bench Conference today but I will give you the opportunity to guess why. I am not going to blog because: 1) I am holed up in a secret location spending taxpayer-funded time preparing for my Senate testimony next week. 2) I am trying to schedule a three-round boxing match between Durham County district attorney Michael Nifong and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. 3) I am consoling myself after learning on Tuesday that I am not the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby. 4) Two words: American Idol. 5) I am tracking down the New York Daily News' "Saddam is alive" story. Have a great weekend....

By Andrew Cohen | April 13, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Email a Comment

The Smartest Thing Yet Said About the Duke Case

There were a lot of stupid, over-the-top comments made yesterday by many of the people involved in the Duke lacrosse case during and after the point at which North Carolina's attorney general declared the three young defendants "innocent" of the sex assault charges against them. Some of the comments about the "injustice" of it all made the young men seem like the second coming of Nelson Mandela. Some of the comments about incompetence and maliciousness made hapless Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong seem like Major Strasser in the film Casablanca. Instead of focusing upon those comments, let me focus instead upon the one comment I heard Wednesday that gratified and encouraged me. It came from David Evans, one of the young men vindicated Wednesday. He acknowledged at a press conference after he was exonerated that he prevailed in large part because he was able to afford the best attorneys...

By Andrew Cohen | April 12, 2007; 12:12 PM ET | Comments (33)

The Duke Case: Unleash the Hounds!

I got blasted last year by my beloved commenters for having the temerity to suggest that we all should wait for the Duke lacrosse case to unfold in real time before we made any judgments about the strength of the evidence or the motives and tactics of Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong. Well, that time has come-- "insufficient evidence" said North Carolina's attorney general, the students are "truly innocent"-- and Nifong's many critics were absolutely correct. Whether or not you agree that the students are "truly innocent" the fact is that there really was no there there in the sexual assault case against the young men. And now Nifong is left to answer, in court and in the court of public opinion, for his dubious conduct throughout his ill-fated attempt to win convictions agianst the defendants. Nifong has to answer for why he did not interview the alleged victim...

By Andrew Cohen | April 11, 2007; 10:18 AM ET | Comments (121)

Even Without the Poll Numbers, Gonzales Should Go

Let's go to the polls. The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg released poll results yesterday on the scandal involving the firing last year by the White House and Justice Department of eight U.S. Attorneys. A slim majority of us, 53 percent, believe that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should resign from his post for his role in and reaction to the controversy. The poll found that an even larger majority of us, 74 percent, believe that top White House officials should testify under oath about their roles in the affair. On this last point, the poll found, even 49 percent of Republicans agreed that Karl Rove and others should be held to publicly account for their conduct. Now, I am not a big fan of polls, especially on complicated and nuanced issues like the ones in play here. Given the partisanship swirling around the country these days, the fact that...

By Andrew Cohen | April 11, 2007; 7:32 AM ET | Comments (39)

Justice Department Robs Peter to Pay Paul

Today's mismanagment news from the Justice Department comes courtesy of the Washington Post's Dan Eggen, who writes about how a half dozen sitting U.S. Attorneys are serving double duty in the nation's capitol often at the expense of their work back home. Here is his lead graph: "A half-dozen sitting U.S. attorneys also serve as aides to the increasingly beleaguered Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or are assigned other Washington postings, performing tasks that take them away from regular duties in their districts for months or even years at a time, according to officials and department records." In Montana, Eggen writes, the situation is so bad that the chief federal judge there called for the removal of William W. Mercer, the U.S. Attorney for the state but also acting Associate Attorney General. Mercer's been spending his time in Washington, and not Billings, and it's apparently (and not surprisingly) affecting the...

By Andrew Cohen | April 10, 2007; 8:16 AM ET | Comments (11)

The "Pros" Drain Out of Justice

The forced removal of the "professional" class from the Justice Department is a dangerous trend that has been exacerbated, but was not created, by the disastrous tenure of Alberto R. Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States. The pendulum was moving in this direction-- in the dubious, short-sighted direction of filling the Department with middling political partisans instead of bright career attorneys-- before the Bush administration fired eight federal prosecutors last year for not being "loyal Bushes." But the scandal over the dismissal of the U.S. Attorneys, and Gonzales' hapless stewardship, has cast a new spotlight on the practice; a focus that perhaps will help slow or even stop the brain drain at Justice. In an excellent piece well worth reading, the Boston Globe on Sunday framed the issue in terms of what reporter Charlie Savage called "the administration's hiring of officials educated at smaller, conservative schools with sometimes...

By Andrew Cohen | April 8, 2007; 4:08 PM ET | Comments (38)

The Department of Chaos

Good Friday wasn't so good for the Justice Department and its sinking chief, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. First came word of what Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen called "a revolt" in the Minnesota office of the U.S. Attorney when senior managers there demoted themselves back to line prosecutors rather than continue to work directly with a former Gonzales aide recently confirmed as U.S. Attorney. Then, late in the afternoon came word that Monica Goodling had resigned her post from the Department. Goodling, remember, is the high-ranking Gonzales deputy at Justice who helped choreograph the dismissal of the eight federal prosecutors. She is now known primarily for her decision to invoke her right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions from Congress about her role in the affair. When she resigned, she wrote to the Attorney General: "May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America." It is...

By Andrew Cohen | April 7, 2007; 8:32 AM ET | Comments (62)

Gonzales Works for Himself, Not You, As Hearing Looms

The Washington Post yesterday offered a wonderful glimpse into the life these days of the embattled Attorney General of the United States. In advance of a scheduled Congressional hearing later this month, Alberto Gonzales isn't working full-time for you or for me. He is working instead to save his professional hide. Here is how the Post's Dan Eggen and Paul Kane put it: "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has retreated from public view this week in an intensive effort to save his job, spending hours practicing testimony and phoning lawmakers for support in preparation for pivotal appearances in the Senate this month, according to administration officials." There you have it. The nation's top lawyer is "spending hours practicing testimony." And every hour he spends on that selfish cause-- the cause of defending himself from his own misfeasance-- is an hour he is not spending doing the job for which he...

By Andrew Cohen | April 6, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (47)

Why John Walker Lindh Should Be Freed-- And Why He Won't Be

The semi-regular circus that might as well be called the John Walker Lindh Commutation Pledge Drive trotted itself out again Wednesday. It will probably do so every time any penny-ante terror suspect pleads guilty and gets a slap on the wrist from the American government-- an event that has occurred with some frequency and which occurred again last week in the case of Australian David Hicks. It will do so until some president, some day, realizes that what happened to Lindh in the federal court system back in 2002 was not justice or fairness or anything other than an unusually harsh result for an unusually pathetic young man. No one argues that Lindh didn't deserve some form of punishment for fighting with the Taliban before 9-11 and then not abandoning his "colleagues" once the Twin Towers fell. This was a terrible mistake in judgment and for it Lindh deserves plenty...

By Andrew Cohen | April 5, 2007; 8:18 AM ET | Comments (25)

The President is "Sorry It's Come to This"

President Bush told White House journalists yesterday that he is "genuinely concerned" about the reputations of the eight fired U.S. Attorneys but that there is "no credible evidence of any wrongdoing" in their dismissals. "I'm sorry it's come to this," Bush said in front of the television cameras and no doubt he is. I would be sorry, too, if I were president and I had an attorney general and a Justice Department that was unable or unwilling to do right by the rules and the truth. The Washington Times this morning has an interesting piece that advances the story of the scandal involving the dismissal last year of the federal prosecutors. Jon Ward writes: "House Republicans don't believe that the Justice Department did anything illegal by firing eight federal prosecutors last year, but they also don't believe that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is telling the truth about why the...

By Andrew Cohen | April 4, 2007; 7:59 AM ET | Comments (31)

The Supreme Court Trawl on Global Warming

Time to take a deep breath of polluted greenhouse gas-y air and look at some of the best comments offered about yesterday's monumental Supreme Court ruling on global warming and the Bush administration's (shall we say) so-far tepid response to it. From the ruling itself, I give you first the irrepressible Antonin Scalia, the Justice who started his dissent with this question: "Does anything require the [Environmental Protection Agency] Administrator to make a 'judgment' whenever a petition for rulemaking is filed? Without citation of the statute or any other authority, the Court says yes. Why is that so?" In other words, Justice Scalia asked, why should the EPA be forced to do anything to address an environmental problem? Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote this in his dissent: "The very concept of global warming seems inconsistent with this particularization requirement [to have standing to sue]. Global warming is a...

By Andrew Cohen | April 3, 2007; 8:36 AM ET | Comments (91)

The Case of the Term Goes Against the White House

Mark it down on your calendars. April 2, 2007. It is possible, and I write this with only a smidge of hyperbole, that this day will go down as a turning point in our nation's efforts to deal with global warming. Why? Because today is the day that the judicial branch (the Supreme Court) sided with the legislative branch (the Democratically-controlled Congress) against the executive branch (the Bush administration) in declaring that the White House's current policy and posture toward greenhouses gases simply does not match the commitment toward the regulation of such pollution that exists within our federal laws. Here is how the Associated Press put it: The Supreme Court ordered the federal government on Monday to take a fresh look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a rebuke to Bush administration policy on global warming. In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Clean Air Act gives...

By Andrew Cohen | April 2, 2007; 11:55 AM ET | Comments (31)

 

© 2007 The Washington Post Company