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-- she's been given use immunity and will almost certainly testify before Congress about her role in the U.S. Attorney scandal-- the Justice Department's faux pas is as inexecusable as it is unsurprising. The Department is merely now doing to Goodling what Goodling and Company did to the fired prosecutors (and, for that matter, what the White House did to George Tenet when it was through with him).
*A few months ago I wrote a long piece making the case for Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial, to succeed Alberto Gonzales. I'll take either one.
But Thursday's big story was Comey. Here is how the Los Angeles Times played the Comey story: "Comey told a House Judiciary subcommittee that six of the former prosecutors had been doing a good job, and that only one was among those he considered to be weak performers. Comey, a senior vice president and general counsel at Lockheed Martin Corp., said that he had had "very positive encounters" with the prosecutors and that the official explanations given for the firings were not consistent with his experience -- though, he noted, he left about two years ago. The testimony of the career prosecutor and onetime Republican political appointee was among the most devastating for the White House and Justice Department, and appeared to complicate efforts by the administration to defuse a controversy that has threatened the two-year tenure of Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales."
And here is the how the New York Times had it: "A former deputy attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that he regarded most of the fired United States attorneys as highly competent prosecutors who should not have been dismissed. James B. Comey, who was deputy attorney general from 2003 until August 2005, testified that his experience with the ousted prosecutors was 'very positive,' and said he knew of no problems with their performance that justified their removal. The testimony by Mr. Comey, who was once the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, contrasted starkly with assertions of current Justice Department officials who have said the eight dismissed prosecutors were removed mainly because of failings in their performance."
Comey could step in tomorrow and run the Department. He earned my respect when he refused to sign off on the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program (it came to him because then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital) forcing then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to end-run Comey and plead with Ashcroft at the latter's hospital bed. He is precisely the sort of man-- a non-"yes" man-- that the Department sorely needs and the country desparately deserves.
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