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 to chill the blood of every politican-- Republican, Democrat, LIbertarian or otherwise-- who values an independent and competent core of federal attorneys. Here is how Eric Lipton of the Times put it: "Ms. Goodling would soon be quizzing applicants for civil service jobs at Justice Department headquarters with questions that several United States attorneys said where inappropriate, like who was their favorite president and Supreme Court justice. One department official said an applicant was even asked 'have you ever cheated on your wife?'... and [Goodling] helped maintain lists of all the United States attorneys that graded their loyalty to the Bush Administration, including work on past political campaigns, and noted if they were members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group."

If you read Lipton's piece carefully, you recognize in it the same patterns of behavior we've heard about before from and among Justice Department officials. Goodling, for example, was as zealous a partisan hack at the Department as was D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former deputy chief of staff, who helped coordinate the firing of the eight (now perhaps nine) U.S. Attorneys last year. Partisanship over professionalism; cronyism over competence; loyalty over logic. It's so pervasive that for Gonzales now to claim, as he has repeatedly, that he was unaware of it--- or worse, that he was aware of it but thinks it is nothing out of the ordinary or otherwise inappropriate-- should long ago have sealed his fate as the nation's top law enforcement official. Any supervisor would long ago have fired any manager who has acted the way that Gonzales has acted throughout this mess.

Indeed, there is a reason this sort of information-- the Goodling story, the story of the "ninth" fired prosecutor-- keeps leaking out from the Justice Department. We are seeing anonymous bureaucratic pushback not because of whiny lawyers who see an opportunity to criticize their boss but because what Gonzales and Company have sought to do there is simply beyond the realm of anything that has been allowed to occur before. The Attorney General is simply flaunting this sea-change at Justice; either that or he is going to shove the subordinates he directed under the bus to protect his own skin. Does that sort of leader deserve respect, or the continued ability to lead? You tell me.

By Andrew Cohen |  May 13, 2007; 9:00 AM ET agag
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Here is what remains. Will Monica Goodling somehow find the courage and love of country to simply tell the truth? Or will she just become another Kyle Sampson?

Does she have the guts to become this generations John Dean, or will she slip quietly into anonimity?

Posted by: Jim DeVanna | May 13, 2007 10:12 AM

I looks like Gonzalas has been given permission to take down the whole Republican party. I can only think that this means the alternative is even worse for his enablers

Posted by: wrb | May 13, 2007 10:39 AM

Mr. Cohen:

You say, "The Attorney General is simply flaunting this sea-change at Justice; either that or he is going to shove the subordinates he directed under the bus to protect his own skin. Does that sort of leader deserve respect, or the continued ability to lead? You tell me."

Here's my answer: no.

A competent leader, one who wants to enjoy the trust of his/her subordinates and protect/enhance their morale and productivity, never protects himself at the expense of subordinates who've done his bidding. This lesson seems to be taught pretty much unanimously in management courses in business schools, where I was a law/communication professor for a number of years.

On Ms. Goodling . . . She came to DOJ with no professional law-enforcement experience or management experience and no litigation experience (and what litigation experience she has she acquired after joining DOJ management). Yet, she quickly acquired the title of "senior counsel," one of the most laughable features of this entire story.

If she wants, she can open an interesting window on the apparent transformation of DOJ hiring practices. Whether she will is a separate question.

On the one hand, she has to be reasonably candid to avoid perjury/false statement charges; on the other, she probably still hopes for a soft landing in the embrace of the either the party or the party's interest-group from which she emerged.

Gonzales, probably, is assured a soft landing. Some Texas or D.C. law firm, interested in currying or preserving good relations with the Bush network (to and through the Carlyle Group, Bush pere's investment firm/employer), will probably hire him.

Hey, maybe his next employer will make him the firm's ethics officer. I doubt it.

Posted by: Alan | May 13, 2007 11:26 AM

By the way, did you mean "flaunting" or flouting"?

Posted by: Alan | May 13, 2007 11:59 AM

As a Federal Manager (thankfully not in DOJ), the apparent prohibited personnel practices would not be tolerated for one second where I work, and if there is any integrity inside the beltway it will not be tolerated there as well.

Posted by: MaryAnne | May 13, 2007 02:36 PM

Clearly Gonzales needs to go. He has compromised himself in ways that may have no parallel in our history. The name John Mitchell comes to mind, but even then, the scope of wrongdoing in this case seems to be much broader, and the long-term implications seem to have an even more damaging potential.

The most recent revelations from Murray Waas from this past Wednesday certainly raise even more questions:

If these allegations are true than Gonzales's actions would cross the boundary from mere incompetence into fairly blatant criminality.

I am also curious to see how the Senate Judiciary Committee's subpoena's of DOJ records play out this week. Gonzales repeatedly asserted Wednesday that he was a "fact witness" and had no control over the release of documents. So does that mean, if the subpoena was served on Gonzales that he will attempt to argue that the subpoena was inappropriately served on him, and that it should have been laid on someone else? (Another mystery person who he failed to name, so as to stick his finger in the eye of the public, yet again?)

Finally, in reference to Brad Schlozman, I understand that he will not be able to keep his appointment with the Senate Judiciary committee this week, because between Wednesday and Friday he learned that he apparently has a "vacation" starting this week.

The Senate Judiciary committee should hold Schlozman to his original commitment.

Posted by: JP2 | May 13, 2007 07:58 PM

Murray Waas' article in Thursday's National Journel, cited by JP2, reveals what a shell game Gonzales and the White House are pulling off with the Congress and the public. To the extent they get away with it, they further emasculate Congress' oversight function. This is scary stuff. With its extraordinary penchant for secrecy, its embrace of the 'unitary executive' theory, its use of signing statements to signal that it may choose to ignore the requirements of duly enacted legislation, and its ever present arrogance, the Bush administration has done all in its power to reduce the Congress to a rubber stamp. The Republican controlled congresses went along with this, to their shame. It remains to be seen how this Democratic congress handles the challenge. But we shouldn't think this fight is just a Republican and Democratice thing. There would be every bit as much cause for concern if we had a Democratic administration pulling this stuff on a Republican congress. What is at issue is our form of government and the benefits of separation of powers. When the legislative branch loses both its law making function to signing statements and its oversight function to a nonresponsive administration our governemnt becomes increasingly dictatorial and fascistic. Let's hope Congress has the will and the skill to fight the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Gonzales assault on our form of government.

Posted by: P. Bosley Slogthrop | May 14, 2007 07:48 AM

This not only crosses the line as far as legitimate hiring practices goes, but also constitutes a corruption enterpise that should be prosecuted by a special prosecutor under the RICO statutes. Gonzo, Herr Rove and the rest of these punks need to be jailed for trying to subvert an independent judiciary.

Posted by: braultrl | May 14, 2007 11:00 AM

With the talk about separation of powers, Congress' oversight function, and principles of the government's design, which I also vigorously espouse, I think we need to look at what Wall Street and the corporate world was allowed to do in the 80's, the influence and positions of special interest groups/lobbies, certain widely disseminated and assumed doctrines of psychology/evolutionary biology,sociology,a kind of influential subjectivism along with a nihilistic and pervasive kind of relativism(note that Bush just read L'Etranger on Rove's recommenendation, I am sure takes Sartre as a given ,that either his or his wife's favorite book is the Brothers K [esp. the Grand Inquisitor section], along with C. Rice's enthusiastic espousal of many things Russian, Wolfowitz's enormous influence by and study with the profoundly-influenced-by Heidegger Leo Strauss etc..), a doctrine of retaliation as justice, preemption as a deterrent, what these influences "by the back way" do to the particular assumptions (which much of the current population implicitly or explicitly don't follow and/or believe )and design of the constitutional republic we have, and what needs to be modified (as I now think is essential)to maintain the originally intended inherent check of balance and fairness, rather than subject to the dispensation of personal favor at whim (under the name of personal "freedom")once the position of authority is reached by any means, false pretenses, and dissembling appearances.

I believe this to be not merely a Republican issue, but a social one.

Posted by: Lance | May 14, 2007 12:30 PM

Gonzalez isn't going anywhere. All that matters to him is that fickle public opinion has been "weathered" (but anyway, it has been mentioned that Congress enabled license in hiring through a loophole in the law; of course it isn't right, but it seems to be within the wording existing at the time), and he's decided he's staying. How "pragmatic"!

Posted by: Henry Adams | May 14, 2007 12:38 PM

So now McNulty is going. going.....Sure makes you wonder who in their right mind would accept these jobs now. Anyone for Senior Counselor, Deputy AG, Chief of Staff ??? Anyone?

BTW, any insight on who is now, even on a temp basis is occupying the position of Monica et al? Also any insight on how leaving the admin constrains/frees these folks from testifying on their activities? Lastly, I just have to imagine that these kind of hiring/housecleaning activities have been going on in all the other federal there anything to substantiate this theory?

Posted by: WOW | May 14, 2007 06:01 PM

All this kind of makes you wonder if Mr. Gonzales has his own job-security file from deep in the heart of Texas. The Bush Family affection for loyal old friends is legendary, but there are limits - remember when Kenny-Boy Lay became Kenny-Who? This is getting past that point, but Gonzales stays put. Why?

Posted by: Rozinante2 | May 15, 2007 02:46 PM

Rozinante2 Isn't so much Bush loyalty as egotistical delusion (and not of any quixotic nature)

Posted by: the Don | May 15, 2007 06:58 PM

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