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 the current spin at the Justice Department, which is that the so-called "Internal Order" letting Goodling and Sampson loose was not improperly withheld from Congress as part of the investigation into the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys last year, the disclosure adds a disturbing twist on an already-disturbing scenario. Yes, executive delegate. And, yes, high-ranking government officials don't have the time to personally oversee the personnel decisions in their departments. But what this revelation tells me, again and perhaps for the 20th time since this scandal broke, is that the Gonzales Justice Department was and is a place where the chief simply has stepped out of the way, failed to perform his constitutional function, and just allowed his subordinates to be directed by the White House. Which begs the question: with an Attorney General like this, who needs an Attorney General? It's like the job has been outsourced to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, trying to distance himself from this mess, reportedly told Congressional investigators that he did not choose the names of any of the Gang of Eight. Here is how the Post's Dan Eggen put it: "The statements Friday, during a private interview with investigators from the House and Senate Judiciary committees, make McNulty the latest senior Justice official to assert that he did not identify any of the U.S. attorneys to be fired and that his role was minimal. Gonzales, former chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson and William E. Moschella, the principal associate deputy attorney general, also told Congress they did not choose who was fired." Where's Waldo, right? Right.

Finally, thank you to those of you who wrote yesterday to update me on the latest mindbender from Gonzales shill Ruben Navarrette, who wrote this about the Attorney General following the latter's Senate Judiciary Committee appearance. First, the guy failed to recognize the sarcasm in Dahlia LIthwick's scathing piece about Gonzales' performance. Strike One. Then he applauded the White House for using Gonzales as a "decoy" for Karl Rove-- Heckuva Job, Alberto! Strike Two. And then he concluded that the Attorney General did not "get flustered" during his appearance. Strike Three. I suppose that someone in the world has to defend Gonzales and it's clearly a sign of how indefensible he truly is that Navarrette's lame work is the best anyone can do.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 1, 2007; 8:30 AM ET agag
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Good to see someone other than me slagging Navarette. I realise I sound racist when I attribute ethnocentric motives to someone else, but I get the feeling the Reuben is just standing up for Gonzo because he's a fellow right-wing Hispanic.

Posted by: Bukko in Australia | May 1, 2007 09:51 AM

First, I'm not being sarcastic -
I think Navarrette was right (at least up to the last sentence). Bush has consistently managed to dump blame and responsibility for all of his actions onto his loyal underlings.
(I think that's why he's searching for a 'war czar').
Gonzales held true to the Bush line. He either didn't remember or didn't know. He's insulated himself with flunkies who could be blamed. Gonzales gave away no useful information. He performed exactly as Bush wanted. Bush will stick by him as long as he's useful.

Posted by: sharon | May 1, 2007 10:08 AM

The faithful subject has covered up for boss in court's hearing. We have seen such things in different mob movies, like 'Good Fellas', for example, like we have seen demolitions of buildings in these movies, like on 9/11, for example. Faithful subjects were killed anyway in these movies, and so would happen in reality. There is actually nothing else to say on the subject.

Posted by: aepelbaum | May 1, 2007 10:22 AM

Does anyone still serve our country as opposed to their personal boss?
Does anyone care to revive the concept of substantive job performance vs. partisan political powers?
Let see, Gonzales serves Bush but not joe citizen despite his oath to uphold our constitution.
And when Polosi ascended her speakership, more than a few journalists and politicos said her absolute number one goal is to ensure we get a democrat president. Uh, I thought her constant number one job was to run the damn Congress and get good laws passed and bad laws fixed.

And Gonzales - he is simply a dangerous man, but not because he is bright and capable. No, it is the opposite: He is especially threatening because he is craven man in a position of power.

Perhaps precisely why he was chosen.

Sit, Alberto, Sit. Good Boy Alberto.
Spin, Alberto, Spin. Nice Try Alberto.
Speak, Alberto, Speak. Alberto...?

Posted by: Jamie | May 1, 2007 11:02 AM

Keep trying, felons. Maybe you can settle on a lie you can all remember. What a bunch of dullards. If I were a *Christian*, I'd be mad as hell that the public face of a *Christian College Education* are these imbecilic twits from *Regent University*. Dumb as a bag of hammers, and apparently can't do much else other than lie. Good PR for a quality *Christian* education. Haha.

Posted by: JL | May 1, 2007 11:59 AM

Keep trying, felons. Maybe you can settle on a lie you can all remember. What a bunch of dullards. If I were a proclaimed Christian, I'd be mad as hell that the public face of a Christian College Education are these imbecilic twits from Regent University. Dumb as a bag of hammers, and apparently can't do much else other than lie. Good PR for a quality Christian education.

Posted by: JL | May 1, 2007 12:00 PM

PLEASE, Sen. Schumer, you're not REALLY going to accept DAG PAUL MCNULTY'S word on this, are you? You'd be AWFULLY naive if you did, I think! I mean, wasn't MCNULTY in on ALL those meetings chronicled in the DOJ emails with Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling? I believe he was! Soooo, what WERE they doing in there, discussing at their little meetings together- huh? No political matters I guess- perhaps playing bridge??

The DAG, PAUL MCNULTY, like his boss the AG, is UNFIT to hold government office. Their sniveling "who me?" "don't blame me- blame our aides!" approach MAKES MY STOMACH TURN.

THESE are supposedly men of INTEGRITY? Running arguably the most important Department in the Government? WHAT, ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

PAUL MCNULTY, even as US Attorney for the ED Va, was very into blaming others for the defaults of his own folks. You see, even when faced with the truth, he would "fix" things so that others would be blamed, not him, and surely not his prosecutors (because everyone had to look good, he was getting a big promotion, you see).

And he made very sure that the Washington Post reporters who covered his office got their just desserts by exclusive interviews with him. (smile) You know how that works, you print what I want, and I'll give you access to the high corridors of power. Truth? Accuracy? Hey, this is Washington! And I want my byline out there, front page!

Oh yes, the slimy Paul McNulty can play that game just about better than anyone at the rotten-to-the-core Department of Justice, certainly better than his boss the AG, because his culture, unlike the AG, is the Hill, the corridors of power, and so he knows how to play the game SLICKLY.

But as far as serving the American public, and conducting himself in a principled and honored manner, well, those just aren't McNulty's strong suits, and why SHOULD they be, for him or AG Gonzales? I mean, NOBODY is holding our government officials to any standards whatsoever, so they can do WHATEVER THEY WANT-absolute power IS absolutely corrupting.

Meanwhile, Congress wails and bemoans, wrings their hands, fails to get the rot out, in other words, proceeds in their usual feckless manner- time to move on to the next ephemeral attention-getter....

Posted by: Chiaramente | May 1, 2007 12:46 PM

Oh, gee, I forgot. Want a good laugh?

Remember when AG Gonzales said he was asking DOJ's OFFICE OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY (!) (OPR) to investigate the U.S. Attorney Firings? He said he had made a specific request to them, because they were (laugh!) SEPARATE from the Department of Justice, and thus would be outside the chain of decision-making?

Now, all you have to do is go to DOJ's website, pull up the OPR, to see what it is they do, and more importantly, WHO it is that makes decisions on sanctions. And who do you think that person might be? Why, PAUL MCNULTY, the DAG, makes the decision on ALL prosecutorial misconduct sanctions or other "shenanigans" at Main Justice, involving DOJ lawyers!

Um, but isn't the DAG like, "complicit" here?

Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse! (smile)

And is it any wonder that OPR sits on rather important prosecutorial misconduct complaints, doing effectively nothing, and even if OPR WERE so inclined to actually DO something, who would make the final decision? (smirk)

And why IS IT that these ever sycophantic and oh-so-timido reporters in this area are so UTTERLY clueless?? Perhaps they are as unprincipled as the USG officials to whom they refuse to lob the hardballs, whom they refuse to probe because that might just upset their "relationships" for future stories? Always less work to go after the soft, unprotected targets, eh?

At least the Left Coast media refuses to outwardly be as suckered in as their East Coast brethern surely are, since it is those Washington Post and New York Times media who are closest to the centers of power, and thus are as arrogant, if not more so, than the government officials of whom they purport to write.

Posted by: chiaramente | May 1, 2007 03:43 PM

Let's all give thanks to Murray Waas on this one. He published first (I think) an article on the order.

If Webster's needs an illustration for "dereliction" in its next edition, it could use AG AG's picture. It'd be a great descriptor.

Posted by: Alan | May 1, 2007 08:11 PM

". . . 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." Sounds a bit familiar (if nicely concise), Andrew: ". . . the person sitting at the top of that heap -- who either knew of this and at a minimum tacitly condoned it or else turned a fatally blind eye to it through overdelegation to underlings because he just didn't care (and take care) nearly as much as an attorney general should."

Posted by: Dan Metcalfe | May 1, 2007 10:21 PM

I think we need to put an electronic bracelet on Gonzo to try and figure out what he actually does.

Posted by: calross | May 2, 2007 11:06 AM

Gonzales doesn't work for the American people , he works for Bush and will screw democrocy to further his bosses agenda

Why Impeachment proceedings have not been started on the A G is beyond me

Posted by: Toolman28 | May 2, 2007 11:07 AM

While generally supportive of Andrew Cohen's views on this shameful Justice Department scandal, I object to his casual description of Monica Goodling's law school (Regent)as "fourth-rate."

He might be interested to know that in the recent ABA National Student Appellate Advocacy Competition, where judges evaluate briefs and oral arguments without knowing which schools the participants are from, many of the teams from the big-name schools (e.g. Harvard) did poorly, not even sending a team to the national finals, while Regent and a number of other supposedly inferior schools did very well. Don't be such a snob, Mr. Cohen.

Posted by: lydgate | May 2, 2007 12:31 PM

What lydgate says. I went to Yale Law. I wouldn't trust some of my classmates to handle a parking ticket. I have met many excellent lawyers from obscure law schools. Yes, the average Yale Law student has a lot more book smarts than the average Brand X law student. But law isn't rocket science. Past a certain cutoff, other traits are far more significant to law than book smarts.

If you don't believe me, remember that Alberto Gonzalez went to Harvard Law.

Posted by: Joe S. | May 2, 2007 02:01 PM

"Equal Justice Under the Law". I enjoyed walking by the Supreme Court on lunch hours during my year in DC (1994). That's when OJ's high-priced legal defense team got the guilty man off, and I thought it should end with: "..., For The Rich". Since Bush I Supreme Court appointees gave the White House to Bush II and he appointed Gonzo, it should say, "No Justice For Any".

Posted by: chuck | May 2, 2007 03:00 PM

About that "fourth rate law school". How about a story-or stories- on how many of those grads are in Bush's government. Of course, who they are, and who they work for might make for great reading.

Does that law school have any texts- beside the obvious one...I mean.

Posted by: meeker | May 2, 2007 04:33 PM

I, with every breath I take... Believe this admin. is a big bunch of crooks and liars. They should all be thrown out. If our elected officials won't do it....WE THE PEOPLE NEED TO TAKE ACTION. They work "at the will of the people". So why the fu@@ are we letting this admin. destroy this country? I honestly believe we need a Revolution in this country.

Posted by: | May 2, 2007 09:07 PM

If the US Attorney hit list was written out in 2005, why did it take over a year to cut loose so called under performers? In the HR world of performance evaluation, a written plan would be provided to each employee who needs some corrective action. Then there would be periodic reviews of behavior. In other words, management would lay out a plan. This very public process for removing US Attorneys sounds very improper from an HR perspective. Maybe Bush has an MBA, but he must have flunked any kind of personnel management courses. I guess Bush doesn't need to be concerned with how his team members are tossed out.

Posted by: Richard Morris | May 4, 2007 05:11 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 full extent of the NSA domestic eavesdropping program, about electronic spying on bank transactions (reported in the Post a few months ago), 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: gold rush | May 4, 2007 05:54 PM

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