The Price of Blind Loyalty
For months now we've talked about how the scandal at the Justice Department would have a terrible impact upon the government's ability to adequately and accurately enforce and ensure the rule of law. Now we are beginning to see precisely how this is happening. No longer can anyone claim that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales' lack of leadership and candor hasn't hurt his troops "on the ground" -- in the federal courts.
In this morning's Los Angeles Times, Richard Schmitt tells us: "Defense lawyers in a growing number of cases are raising questions about the motives of government lawyers who have brought charges against their clients. In court papers, they are citing the furor over the U.S. attorney dismissals as evidence that their cases may have been infected by politics. Justice officials say those concerns are unfounded and constitute desperate measures by desperate defendants. But the affair has given defendants and their lawyers some new energy, which is complicating life for the prosecutors."
Yesterday, in the Washington Post, came the news about "vacancy problems" at the Justice Department caused in part by the scandal and also by the White House's reaction to it. And in the Sunday New York Times came the thumbsucker piece about how the subpoenas issued last week to former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former White House political director Sara Taylor are going to cause a legal showdown over executive privilege.
Were these problems and confrontations avoidable? Absolutely.A strong and independent attorney general never would have let such partisanship seep into the Justice Department from the White House; never would have given creative defense attorneys another argument to make in court against the government. (And the fact that some of these arguments will never succeed is beside the point; that federal prosecutors now have to defend themselves and their political motives drains time and energy and resources away from legitimate business.)
Nor would a competent head of the Justice Department have allowed the scandal to mushroom into what it has become today. By failing to give complete and candid answers to the Congress, the attorney general and several of his former colleagues all but guaranteed the looming battle over executive privilege. Someone, after all, came up with and approved and coordinated the compilation of that list of U.S. attorneys who were to be professionally whacked -- and the fact that we still don't know the full story about that is not the fault of Democrats, or the media or anyone other than those in the administration who know the truth but who refuse to tell it. They are the ones who have picked the subpoena fight to come.
And at the bottom of it all-- or at the top of it all, depending upon your view -- is the president of the United States. His failure to fire his buddy Gonzales, and his failure to demand (sincerely and not just for the cameras) that all of his subordinates cooperate with the investigation, has brought us to this unhappy place, where smart lawyers don't want to work at the Justice Department, current prosecutors have to defend their political persuasions in court, and the judicial system has to now gear up for a constitutional showdown that long ago could have been avoided. All of this is the price all of us are paying for one man's blind loyalty to another.
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