No Comment — July 9, 2007, 3:05 am

Department of Injustice

Since I started chronicling the disintegration of the Department of Justice under Alberto Gonzales, I have been contacted by a number of career DOJ lawyers. On occasion they have had corrections to offer on one point or another. But none of them have criticized the tone or orientation of my critiques – to the contrary, the message they keep sending me is to “please keep it up.” And in today’s Denver Post a career DOJ lawyer, John Koppel, has written a piece they pretty much reflects the tone of most of the messages I have gotten. Here’s a sliver, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

As a longtime attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, I can honestly say that I have never been as ashamed of the department and government that I serve as I am at this time. The public record now plainly demonstrates that both the DOJ and the government as a whole have been thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriate, unethical and indeed unlawful. The unconscionable commutation of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s sentence, the misuse of warrantless investigative powers under the Patriot Act and the deplorable treatment of U.S. attorneys all point to an unmistakable pattern of abuse.

In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, international law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor “politics as usual,” but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate – which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

In more than a quarter of a century at the DOJ, I have never before seen such consistent and marked disrespect on the part of the highest ranking government policymakers for both law and ethics. It is especially unheard of for U.S. attorneys to be targeted and removed on the basis of pressure and complaints from political figures dissatisfied with their handling of politically sensitive investigations and their unwillingness to “play ball.” Enough information has already been disclosed to support the conclusion that this is exactly what happened here, at least in the case of former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico (and quite possibly in several others as well). Law enforcement is not supposed to be a political team sport, and prosecutorial independence and integrity are not “performance problems.”

Alberto Gonzales and Paul J. McNulty, among others, constantly try to hide behind their career employees, saying that criticism of DOJ hurts them. Of all the outrageous whoppers they’ve uttered, this is the prize-winner. There are many outstanding civil servants at the Department of Justice today, and most of them are in a state of anguish and disgust over what this administration has done to what was once one of our most revered institutions. There is only one course of action for Americans who believe in our Constitution and traditions, and that is to vent rage over the way the Justice Department is being corrupted. Nothing is more important to any society than a sense of Justice. Alberto Gonzales and George Bush have none. The gross wrongs they have done in the name of Justice need to be fully exposed and cured. There is nothing more pressing on America’s domestic agenda.

As Alexander Hamilton wrote (see today’s quote), a firm commitment to the rule of law, and derivative of that, to the Constitution, is the greatest source of security our Republic has. It is vastly more important than daisy-cutter bombs and color-coded security warnings. It is our lifeline. And right now, our Republic is drowning.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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