Archive: May 2007

Gonzales's Failures Broader Than Prosecutor Purge

Another Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently killed himself yesterday amid concerns that conditions at our terror suspect prison camp in Cuba have not gotten measurably better for the condemned men now going on Year Six of indefinite confinement there. The news came on the same day that the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department announced it had widened the scope of its inquiry into the Department's hiring practices as a result of Monica Goodling's damning testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee. No, I'm not arguing that the two developments are related. But the suicide is a timely reminder that the scandal over the firing of U.S. Attorneys last year is not the only or even the most serious failing of the Justice Department under the stewardship of Alberto R. Gonzales. Even if you contend that the prosecutor purge was "politics as usual"-- a procedural failure -- then...

By Andrew Cohen | May 31, 2007; 8:19 AM ET | Comments (36)

Another Trial, Another Test, for Southern Justice

It's time for another (and some say the last) high-profile case resulting from long-ago crimes. It's time for another old man to face a jury and his conscience. It's time for another test of the distance we've come from a time when the law protected whites at the expense of blacks. It's time for another Southern trial of a civil-rights era crime. And there is little reason to think or believe that this trial will end much differently from some of the other, similar trials we've seen over the past few years. Jury selection begins today in Jackson, Mississippi for a man named James Ford Seale. He is charged with conspiracy and kidnapping relating to the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, who were brutally killed in May of that fateful year (the bodies of Moore and Dee were discovered while the police...

By Andrew Cohen | May 30, 2007; 8:08 AM ET | Comments (42)

It's Hard to Find Good People These Days

The federal prosecutor scandal isn't just some theoretical fight over ideology and power. It has real consequences and here are just two of the latest examples that have come to our attention thanks to good reporting by good journalists. The excellent reporters at McClatchy tell us that the controversy seems to be dragging down the pace of applicants for the position of U.S. Attorney. And, really, can you blame anyone? If you were a good and seasoned attorney with political connections-- or, more likely a political hack who wanted to pad your resume for future public office-- would you want to go through the ringer these days to get to the Justice Department so that Alberto R. Gonzales could be your boss? Didn't think so. Nor should you be surprised that the administration's practices toward the hiring of immigration judges has generated a cadre of.... unprepared and unworthy judges! As...

By Andrew Cohen | May 29, 2007; 8:05 AM ET | Comments (18)

Pick an Angle, Any Angle, on the U.S. Attorney Mess

It's a Friday before a holiday weekend and I would much rather be writing about this happy news than about the U.S. Attorney scandal. But duty calls.* On the Gonzales Watch, there are many angles swirling around today. To wit: 1) The president is still standing by his man; 2) There are larger constitutional issues implicated by the scandal; 3) Monica Goodling's testimony was a bust; 4) Monica Goodling's testimony was rich with new information; 5) The Alberto Gonzales "no confidence" vote is planned for June; 6) Gonzales himself is just a lackey for the "Cheney White House;" 7) The Bush administration is infused with evangelicals like Goodling. But my favorite U.S. attorney story of the day -- the one I feel is most important -- comes from the Los Angeles Times. Richard B. Schmitt writes in today's paper: "The Justice Department has broadened an internal investigation examining whether aides...

By Andrew Cohen | May 25, 2007; 8:09 AM ET | Comments (32)

Missing Their Chance With Monica

I do not necessarily blame Monica Goodling for such a lackluster day of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. She was as forthcoming as she needed to be given the circumstances. Instead, I blame the Democratic members of the committee, who with their unfocused questions and lack of follow-up made their counterparts in the Senate look like a pack of Perry Masons. First, who is the Einstein who decided that the lawmakers would get only five minutes each to ask their questions? It devolved into a farce. By the time Goodling was getting to the meat of her answers, or by the time that the politician-questioner had finished with his or her run-up to a good question, time was up. ("You have five seconds left," said Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) over and over again without any apparent sense of irony.) Goodling was off the hot seat until the next...

By Andrew Cohen | May 24, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (40)

Goodling Trashes McNulty; Mum on Gonzales

Monica Goodling is hours into her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and if you didn't know the background of the U.S. attorney scandal you would be forgiven for believing that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales runs the Justice Department in absentia from a deserted island through the use of carrier pigeons and haiku. Goodling has barely mentioned her former boss and has barely been asked by lawmakers about the attorney general's involvement in the prosecutor purge or his failed leadership of the department. Maybe that's going to come after lunch -- maybe the committee wants to end with a bang and not a whimper -- but it is a surprise that it has not taken place so far. After all, Gonzales clearly is the most important figure in this story, and someone about whom Goodling ought to be able to talk at great length and with florid detail. So...

By Andrew Cohen | May 23, 2007; 12:45 PM ET | Comments (39)

Don't Cry for Us, Monica Goodling

I swear, if Monica Goodling cries today when she testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about her role in the U.S. Attorney scandal I will be on the phone to Jon Stewart before Goodling's first tear hits the floor of the hearing room. She didn't cry for the good men and women within the Justice Department whom she helped get fired because they weren't "loyal Bushies" like her. She didn't cry for the subversion of justice that the firings (and her hiring decisions) represented. She didn't cry when her former boss, the Attorney General, stonewalled. But she is going to cry when Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) asks her a question? Please. If Goodling truly wants to begin to rehabilitate herself and her place in history she can start today by dispensing with the drama and simply telling the Committee all that she knows about last year's prosecutor purge at the...

By Andrew Cohen | May 22, 2007; 9:32 PM ET | Comments (85)

The Way Out of the Gonzales Mess

President George W. Bush said yesterday that his Attorney General, Alberto R. Gonzales, has "done nothing wrong." Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers continue to make plans to try to hold a "no confidence" vote on Gonzales, Capitol Hill prepares for former Justice Department official Monica Goodling's testimony on Wednesday, and Republican lawmakers continue to leave the Good Ship Gonzales in packs. It's time, in other words, for a smart deal. The spin out of the White House is that the President is sticking with Gonzales because he does not want to undertake the ordeal, the conflict, of two high-profile Justice Department confirmation battles (one for Gonzales and one for his recently-departed deputy, Paul J. McNulty). Never mind that the Department itself is a shambles and getting worse. Or that Gonzales has zero credibility on Capitol Hill. Or that the President-- any president-- should be able and willing to put the interests of...

By Andrew Cohen | May 21, 2007; 7:48 PM ET | Comments (40)

Gonzo Just a Memory by Memorial Day?

Those of us taking the "under" on the continuing tenure of Alberto R. Gonzales got a boost Sunday from two Republican Senate leaders, one of whom said that he believes that the Attorney General could resign before a scheduled "no confidence" vote in the Senate this week and the other of whom refused to publicly support Gonzales when given the opportunity to do so. Gonzales is taking a trip to Europe this week but will be back in time for Friday, the day before the long Memorial Day weekend and typically a prime time to announce bad news-- like the resignation of an attorney general. Could it happen in the next few days? Beats me. But if you are Gonzales and you lose the support of GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who took a pass Sunday when asked if the Attorney General could continue to effectively lead the Justice...

By Andrew Cohen | May 21, 2007; 7:45 AM ET | Comments (36)

"A Very Strong" AG? White House Should Prove it

White House tribunes declared Friday that President George W. Bush still has confidence in Alberto Gonzales as "a very strong attorney general" and sees the upcoming "no-confidence" vote on Gonzales in the Senate as merely a "political stunt." This pronouncement occurred on the same day, maybe even perhaps around the same time, that Gonzales himself was being hammered in a private session with his current crop of U.S Attorneys, by now famously culled (at least partially) to include only the most "loyal Bushies" hand-selected by the White House and people like Monica Goodling. The White House's still-game-for-Gonzo message came following a week in which Republicans were shedding themselves of the hapless Attorney General as quickly as they could scramble to a microphone and clammer for attention. And it came one day before former president Jimmy Carter publicly declared that the Bush Administration is the "worst in history." So, who you...

By Andrew Cohen | May 19, 2007; 10:14 AM ET | Comments (40)

No Confidence in His Competence

The brief ebb tide in the U.S. attorney scandal has gone. Thanks to the startling testimony of former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, and new revelations about dysfunction within the Justice Department, the rip tide of controversy and political pressure is back. Today Senate Democrats will try to engineer a "no confidence" vote on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. And from the looks of things they'll have plenty of support from their GOP colleagues. From today's New York Times: "Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, said on Thursday that Mr. Gonzales should resign... In addition, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said Mr. Gonzales's resignation should now be considered a possibility. 'When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it,' Mr. Roberts said. This week, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said Mr....

By Andrew Cohen | May 18, 2007; 7:43 AM ET | Comments (36)

More Injustice at Justice

I had more than a passing interest in the news that at least 26 U.S. attorneys were initially targeted for dismissal by the White House and Justice Department, including a fellow named William Leone, who was then serving as U.S. attorney in Colorado. I happen to know Bill Leone. I worked against him a long time ago in a complicated case and have stayed in sporadic touch ever since. And I am here to tell you that Bill Leone is no Alberto Gonzales. He is no Paul McNulty. He is no Kyle Sampson or Monica Goodling. Leone has more intelligence, integrity and respect for the rule of law in his little finger than those four pillars of partisanship have in their entire bodies. Leone is a brilliant lawyer and a good man, and it is truly a sign of how the world of the Justice Department has been turned upside...

By Andrew Cohen | May 16, 2007; 8:52 PM ET | Comments (42)

Alberto Throws Paul Under Bus: Ditto James to Alberto

What a morning it's been for devotees of the U.S. Attorney scandal. While former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about ghoulish behavior on the part of then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General himself was throwing under the bus his former deputy, Paul J. McNulty, who resigned under fire yesterday from the Justice Department. Got that? The guy who should be Attorney General was highlighting the backhanded way in which the current Attorney General operated back in 2004. And Gonzales, the guy who has kept his job thanks to blind loyalty on the part of President Bush, was unable and unwilling to show any measure of fealty to his own subordinate, savaging him less than 24 hours after McNulty decided to go. All of a sudden, Gonzales, the man who last week said he would take "responsibility" for the disaster at...

By Andrew Cohen | May 15, 2007; 12:51 PM ET | Comments (118)

The Fall of the House of McNulty

Make no mistake. The newly-resigned former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty is not a "fall guy" at the Justice Department or otherwise a victim of the ever-expanding scandal over the firing last year of eight (or nine) U.S. Attorneys. Like his boss the Attorney General of the United States, McNulty knew or should have known that the White House-inspired plan to politicize the Justice Department was wrong; knew or should have known that good, honest, smart federal prosecutors all across the country were unconscionably being sacked in favor of partisan cronies; knew or should have known that the Justice Department is not supposed to be a political fiefdom to be manipulated at the whim of party loyalists or bureaucratic hacks. Even more so than Alberto Gonzales, McNulty, a former federal prosecutor himself, should have stood up for the independence and authority of the prosecutors who were fired. So...

By Andrew Cohen | May 14, 2007; 8:17 PM ET | Comments (74)

The Attorney General's "Monica" Problem

Last month, when Alberto R. Gonzales figuratively flipped off the Senate Judiciary Committee with his evasive, incomplete and simply incredible answers, there were loud rumblings by leaders in both parties that perhaps it was indeed time for him to end his miserable tenure as the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Last week, however, when Gonzales virtually repeated his lame performance, this time before the House Judiciary Committee, there was barely a peep of protest. Gonzales and his dwindling group of cronies at the Justice Department took note of this receding anger and frustration and were said to be expressing growing confidence that this inapt and inept leader would somehow survive in office. The rip-tide against him was said to have ebbed. But then comes a story like the one in Saturday's New York Times, again about the hiring practices of former Justice Department official Monica Goodlling, which ought...

By Andrew Cohen | May 13, 2007; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (13)

Happy Anniversary!

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of Bench Conference. My how time flies when you are publishing blog posts at the rate of 1.03 per day, including weekends and holidays! I won't pretend it has been easy, and we've certainly had our ups and downs, you and I. But I wouldn't have traded the experience of blogging for washingtonpost.com for anything else in journalism. (OK, a few things, but you know what I mean.) For this post, I will share some of my impressions on my anniversary. Since some of my most favorite columns have come in the form of Top Ten lists, I will indulge myself one more time. 10. This blog has worked best when it has closely tracked big legal news or particularly controversial legal news. My consistent criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has scratched an itch for many of you, while my writing on the Duke...

By Andrew Cohen | May 11, 2007; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (14)

House GOP to Gonzo: Scandal, What Scandal?

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tx.) wins the prize, so far anyway, for the silliest statement made during the House Judiciary Committee's hearing into the U.S. Attorney scandal. With Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales sitting again in the hot seat, and again spouting off the same empty platitudes, Rep. Smith complained not about the complete lack of responsiveness on the part of the nation's top law enforcement official but about the pace of the investigation. "The list of accusations has mushroomed, but the evidence of wrongdoing has not," Rep. Lamar said. "If there are no fish in this lake, we should reel in our lines of questions, dock our empty boat and turn to more pressing issues." Where to start with nonsense like that? How about here. First, not only has the "list of accusations" against the Justice Department "mushroomed," as Smith says, but so has "the evidence of wrongdoing." Yesterday, for...

By Andrew Cohen | May 10, 2007; 12:34 PM ET | Comments (45)

Gonzales to Congress: Get Over it, I'm Staying

For a man with much to be modest about, Alberto R. Gonzales sure seems to be feeling his oats these days. On Wednesday, in prepared remarks he intends to deliver to the House Judiciary Committee when he testifies again on Capitol Hill today, the Attorney General told the lawmakers to move their pretty little minds past the U.S. Attorney scandal so that everyone at the Justice Department could get back to work. "The sooner that all the facts are known," wrote the man who famously couldn't or wouldn't remember vital details last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role in the controversy, "the sooner we can devote our exclusive attention" to protecting "the American people from the dangers of terrorism, violent crime, illegal drugs and sexual predators." (Memo to file: Under Gonzales' watch, violent crime in many large cities is up, as is drug use in the middle...

By Andrew Cohen | May 10, 2007; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (123)

Forget Censure and Impeachment; Gonzales Needs to Go Now

Columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr. argues this week that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should be censured by the Congress for his dubious role in the widening U.S. Attorney scandal. Last week, a law professor named Frank Bowman suggested that the Congress could and perhaps should impeach Gonzales for his many failures as a cabinet level official. Neither of these options make sense; neither would accomplish what needs to be accomplished in a reasonable period. The attorney general, who keeps "taking responsibility" for his role in the controversy but then refuses to do anything about it, simply needs to go, either voluntarily or with a push from the White House. Nothing short of that is going to fix this problem as quickly as it needs to be fixed. Why? Because this is an executive branch problem that ought to be solved within the executive branch. President Bush continues to place loyalty...

By Andrew Cohen | May 9, 2007; 7:57 AM ET | Comments (14)

Texas Supreme Court to Juries: Get Bent

Let's shift our focus today from the U.S. Attorney scandal to a scandalous ruling out of Texas. But before we do, let's briefly play that "Six Degrees of Separation" game. Before he became a disastrous Attorney General, Alberto R. Gonzales was a disastrous White House counsel. And when he left that post he was replaced by Harriet Miers. And when Harriet Miers was nominated for a position on the Supreme Court, her most vocal (and some say overzealous) supporter was Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht. Hecht is the fellow who authored the ruling that has folks fired up in the Lone Star State. And of course before Gonzales was a miserable White House counsel and a pathetic Attorney General he was a lame Justice on the Texas Supreme Court. See? Like everything else in the world, misfeasance is interrelated! The Texas Observer's Anthony Zurcher this past week focused at...

By Andrew Cohen | May 8, 2007; 8:44 AM ET | Comments (16)

Here is Your Justice Department

Ah, the first weekend in May. Mint Juleps. An exciting Kentucky Derby. Playoff hockey. And news of another high-ranking Justice Department official reportedly hiring federal lawyers based upon their political affiliation-- a violation of federal law. This isn't a repeat of last week's news that Monica Goodling may have hired lawyers for the Justice Department because they were Republicans. This is "new" news that a fellow named Bradley Schlozman, a former "senior civil rights attorney" at Justice, may have told Republican lawyers to delete resume references to their party affiliation and then re-submit their resumes so that they could get their jobs. That was when Schlozman was in Washington, D.C. In today's Boston Globe, Charlie Savage has another brilliant piece on what Schlozman did after he was promoted to the position of U.S. Attorney for western Missouri following his loyal (and some say heavy-handed) service to the party. "Bradley Schlozman...

By Andrew Cohen | May 7, 2007; 6:51 AM ET | Comments (31)

How An Attorney General Should Act (and Monica's Mad)

Another man who could and should be the next* Attorney General of the United States, James B. Comey, came to Capitol Hill yesterday and showed why. The former Deputy Attorney General, who worked at the Justice Department from 2003 to 2005, testified before the House Judiciary Committee and showed precisely the sort of candor and leadership that is lacking from the current Attorney General. In his little finger the Republican Comey has more respect among lawmakers and lawyers, and more integrity and independence, than Alberto Gonzales has in his whole body. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Justice Department managed to tick off former high-ranking official Monica Goodling and her attorneys by going public with allegations against her (allegations that she broke the law by giving out jobs based upon political affiliation) before notifying Team Goodling about the matter as a professional courtesy. Given how vital Goodling's testimony will be--...

By Andrew Cohen | May 4, 2007; 7:48 AM ET | Comments (19)

End the Charade

The big news this morning really shouldn't come as any "news" at all. What it should do is finally push Congress over the edge of inaction so that it formally and uniformly demands that President George W. Bush put an end to the charade of propriety and good governance that is otherwise known as the Alberto R. Gonzales Era at the Justice Department. From Eric Lipton and David Johnston at the New York Times: "The Justice Department has begun an internal investigation into whether a former senior adviser to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales improperly tried to fill vacancies for career prosecutors at the agency with Republicans loyal to the Bush administration, department officials said Wednesday. The inquiry focuses on whether the former adviser, Monica Goodling, sought to determine the political affiliations of job applicants before they were hired as prosecutors -- potentially a violation of civil service laws and...

By Andrew Cohen | May 3, 2007; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (91)

Gonzales: The Lawyer Who Lied to the Judge

The Washington Post's Dan Eggen this morning reports that in November 2005 Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales apparently misled a federal judge in Montana about the status of William W. Mercer, the U.S. Attorney for the state. The nation's top lawyer and chief law enforcement official reportedly told the judge that Mercer was not breaking the law by spending his time working in Washington (for the Justice Department) and not Montana (for the people of his state). But this evidently was not true. Because on the same day, Eggen reports, "Mercer had a GOP Senate staffer insert into a bill a provision that would change the rules so that federal prosecutors could live outside their districts to serve in other jobs, according to documents and interviews." Eggen writes: ".... [T]he episode, which received little notice at the time, provides another example in which Gonzales's statements appear to conflict with simultaneous...

By Andrew Cohen | May 2, 2007; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (131)

The Attorney General's Job: Outsourced

We learned Monday that for most of 2006 the Justice Department's ultimate hiring and firing authority was not in the hands of the boss-- the Attorney General of the United States-- but rather in the hands of an inexperienced 37-year-old guy (Kyle Sampson) who briefly wanted to fire fabled U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and an inexperienced 33-year-old woman (Monica Goodling) who went to a fourth-rate law school founded by Pat Robertson, the mission statement of which was "to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world." Does that help explain why the Justice Department is the pathetic mess it is today? Does it help reaffirm for you the notion that Alberto R. Gonzales is an incompetent leader who wasn't even capable enough to properly delegate to the right people a job he should have been doing in the first place? Even if you accept...

By Andrew Cohen | May 1, 2007; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (19)

 

© 2007 The Washington Post Company