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.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 4, 2007; 7:48 AM ET agag
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I fear Mr. Cohen is engaging in wishful thinking again, as he did two days ago vis a vis Elizabth Holtzman's realism. Messrs. Bush and Gonzales are locked in a death embrace. If Bush were to nominate a person of high competence and integrity as Attorney General, he would leave his administration vulnerable to attacks from within, investigations he could not dismiss as mere 'partisan politics' like the congressional oversight investigations and hearings. Plus, once Gonzales was a goner, protected by neither his office nor the personal fealty of POTUS, he would quickly become fair game for even more attacks from administration insiders and other Republicans than he is enduring now. It wouldn't take long for him to start retaliating and trying to mount some kind of defense of himseslf and the only likely defensive targets for him would be the political people in the White House and indirectly, the Decider himself, at whose pleasure, as we all know, the US attorneys serve. Perhaps Gonzales would simply fall on his sword and go through the rest of his life with his honesty and integrity thoroughly discredited, but it doesn't seem likely. Witness George Tenet. If he does bite the dust, my bet on the likely replacement nominee is not Comey or Fitzgerald, but that loyal Bushie Michael Chertof. He's screwed up the Department of Homeland Security and the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina; why not give him a shot to continue the good work at the Department of Justice where he used to work. Maybe he could bring back Heckofajob Brownie as his deputy AG.

Posted by: P. Bosley Slogthrop | May 4, 2007 09:58 AM

the post by bosley slogthrop is great!

Posted by: simonsrook | May 4, 2007 12:41 PM

Another independent corroboration of what we have all known from the beginning: that the Busheviks came to Washington with a hit list. They came to restore of government of favors and greased palms and to do as much as they could to restore ordinary people to their proper historical place. Bush is now in opposition mode and his behavior is perfectly predicted by whatever best makes him appear *tough.* Congress will have to impeach the little man, Bush won't fire him as that would appear weak

Posted by: Chris Fox | May 4, 2007 12:49 PM

Dalia Lithwik, sorry if I spelled your name wrong, has it right, I think, in her piece at Slate.com when she states that Gonzales was not playing to a national audience nor for that matter was he really playing to the senators questioning him. He was in fact falling on his sword for the only person that counts to him and that is George W. Bush. If Gonzalez is the walking dead as he certainly may be to the rest of us, he isn't to GWB. GWB needs him there, he can not afford to have to go through a Senate approval process for a new AG because it would expose all the warts he and Karl have hidden to date, but it would also force him to nominate someone competent, who then would be forced to investigate what the hell has been going on. So the fact that the AG couldn't remember 50, 70 or 100 times doesn't matter to GWB, he survived to lie anouther day. If Gonzalex were to have to leave in whatever manner and GWB doesn't want to have to go through the Senate approval process then his only choice would be a recess appointment of a new AG. I would not be surprised if Gonzalez were to leave just before a Senate recess and that GWB then apoints someone to take his place at that time.

Posted by: Karl | May 4, 2007 12:50 PM

Hat's off to P. Bosley Slogthrop for his elegantly versed opinion. In essence, the Bush Administration has begun to eat its own.

I doubt there are many "capable" volunteers waiting in the wings for a chance to be a part of the current administration.

That was evident in the light of last night's Rep. POTUS Candidates forum in that former Rep. Pres. Reagan was mentioned a great many more times than was Bush.

Its funny now looking back to when we saw the first glimpses of the Bush culture of "Yes Sir, whatever you say Sir" start to crack way back when fmr. Sec. of State Colin Powell resigned. Look how long it has taken for any other men of integrity to clean the smut from their eyes. Have there been any other MOI in the Bush Camp? Or, have we only witnessed the casting away of the carcasses after the butchering have been completed?

Posted by: John in fl. | May 4, 2007 12:51 PM

Pick one of the eight, anyone of them would make a better AG than AG.

Posted by: Stan Barkley | May 4, 2007 01:01 PM

If Gonzales for some reason did resign I would agree that the administration might like to replace him with the reliably loyal Chertoff. That, however, really would provoke the kind of confirmation hearing explosion the administration has every reason to avoid -- and could avoid, either by appointing someone like Comey or by finding a minority nominee that Democratic Senators would go easy on, as they did with Gonzales himself two years ago.

Posted by: Zathras | May 4, 2007 01:15 PM

Ah, Bushy/Che - ney-e are so overdue for impeache-a-ment, ar-e they not?

Posted by: aepelbaum | May 4, 2007 01:16 PM

Where are the Dixie Chicks when you need them. To paraphrase Natalie: I am embarrassed that our President is from America.

Posted by: Joe P | May 4, 2007 01:19 PM

43 is exactly where nixon was when he had to fire haldeman and erlichman. he has to do it but he cannot. when he finally does, it is too late to salvage anything.

remember what comes next?


Posted by: pre AmeriKKKan | May 4, 2007 01:36 PM

I wish the talk about AG leaving would stop. It is unrealistic to happen.

Just as it is unrealistic to have any high expectations about the underlying ethos of this administration.

Their fundamental goal was to return to a Nixonian, Imperial White house and reverse the initiatives that arrived out of compromise or constitutional interpretation by pesky activist judges.

On the latter they appear very successful. Thanks to '06, the former may not happen-even though the administration continues its denial about '06.

AG is not going anywhere short of an indictment. It is not the president's temperment. Politicizing the Attorney General function may be a threat to the Constitution, our fundamental rights, and a huge abuse of power (also pretty tacky), but it is not illegal.

Posted by: Slats Grobnick | May 4, 2007 01:43 PM

Well, at least this mess has exposed AG sufficiently that we don't have to worry about him on the Court.

Posted by: Silver Lined | May 4, 2007 03:29 PM

Come on, you don't think the Republicans would hire anyone who is competent and ethical do you? Comey doesn't meet the GOP job specifications that call for corruption, cronyism, and criminal activity while serving. November 2008 will see a good start in getting rid of these vermin.

Posted by: mikeasr | May 4, 2007 03:30 PM

Bush will never fire Gonzales for the sole reason that Gonzo knows too much.

Frankly, the firings of the US Attorneys is probably the least important secret that he knows. As White House Cousel and AG, he was in a position to know exactly what's going on in Guantanamo and Abu Ghirab, about the "extraordinary renditions" of suspects in foreign countries, about the NSA domestic eavesdropping program, about electronic spying on bank transactions, about which domestic laws the Administration is ignoring per its "signing statements," about why the Administration issued so many "terror alerts" just before the 2004 eletions, about the Justice Department's obsession with "voter fraud" which may have been used to suppress turnout, and a host of other dirty secrets that probably haven't even been publicly unearthed. In short, he knows enough to send people to jail if he wanted to.

I bet Gonzo gets to keep his job as long as he wants it. It's a small price to pay for his silence.

Posted by: little john | May 4, 2007 04:00 PM

Hopefully, W has played the "recess appointment" shenanigan often enough that the leadership of both houses are wise to the game -- and will NEVER formally recess congress until January 2008. The members can just take turns going home to campaign.

Posted by: trueblue | May 4, 2007 04:23 PM

Serious criminality throughout the administration, including on the part of the president and the need to conceal it, is the only possibly plausible explanation remaining for Gonzalas and Rove still remaining. Their actions have confirmed it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Posted by: wrb | May 4, 2007 04:50 PM

It's not illegal to try to influence the prosecutorial powers of 90 odd USAs'? If a criminal organization was killing these guys one by one, attempting to intimidate the remaining USAs into investigating and prosecuting their competitors aggressively while leaving their own illegal operations alone, that would be 90 odd counts of Obstruction of Justice, one for each USA you are trying to influence.
The criminality of the political system in this country is an arguable point, however the effect of the terminations is not. It served notice to the surviving USAs', don't prosecute Republicans, investigate Dems around elections and even though voter fraud is an imaginary boogey-man the Republican party enjoys waving around, you have to take it seriously and spend money and time on it, you have to help us with the political charade. If you fail to comply, you will be sacked and subsequently smeared.
Politicizing is not what we are talking about as a criminal act, it's the attempt to corrupt the other USAs' into abandoning their oath to administer justice impartially that should land someone in jail. `

Posted by: dijetlo | May 4, 2007 08:03 PM

Okay, I'm reposting this, sorry for the irritation, but this book is like the DaVinci Code, and it's about the Bush administration! Let's get the ground swell going.

"The Librarian" by Larry Beinhart--who also wrote the book that was the basis for "Wag the Dog." Although it's a thriller, it really pillories the Bush administration, complete with a President Scott who joins the Nat. Guard to avoid VietNam, a vice president who avoids going to war through student deferments, and a plot to stay in power by gerrymandering the electoral college. At one point, the president and his cronies muse that they need a national emergency to get the legislative ball rolling in their desired direction. "How about if we just get out of the terrorist's way when they make another try for the World Trade Center." Read it! Recommend it to Oprah!

Posted by: Dave | May 5, 2007 01:35 PM

Dude: regarding your column about being a juror. You screwed up, IMO.

I'm a trial lawyer and LOVE to be on a jury. Here's what I would do tho:

1. Be a nerd. Don't be an "analyst." Forget what you know.

2. Listen to the evidence.

3. Judge the case on the facts presented.

4. Be quiet, mild, in deliberations. See what happens. If the decision is going the way you agree, just shut up and go with the flow. If the guy's innocent (yeah right!) and you think he's being railroaded, then speak out. Otherwise, just shut up and BE A NERD.

Too bad you didn't adopt that approach because you might have learned something and been a good juror.

I have a friend, attorney, who was on a criminal jury and was the foreman. He didn't learn anything other than what a jury he lead would do. I know of two other lawyers who did the other approach and learned a great deal while appropriately discharging their duties as jurors.

Posted by: tom | May 6, 2007 01:05 PM

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