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Alberto Gonzales spends his last day in the office as Attorney General today. On Monday, Paul Clement assumes his duties as Acting Attorney General. As the Washington Post observes today, Gonzales’s passing is being taken with a collective sigh of relief among his own senior staff at Justice. His leadership, they suggest, has been a severe ordeal for the Justice Department. Of course, Patrick Leahy and Harry Reid are quick to remind that the ordeal is not over—Congress will continue to pursue the issues raised by the U.S. Attorney’s scandal, the growing evidence of political prosecutions, doubtful positions taken on FISA, highly coercive interrogations, Guantánamo and a host of other matters… not to mention the serious accusation that Gonzales committed perjury in giving testimony to Congress.
Nevertheless, parting words of a sort are appropriate. When I started writing about the swarm of ethics and other issues descending over the Justice Department, I found myself on the other end of a good amount of correspondence from serving and departed federal prosecutors. They furnished me with a number of leads which have been pursued over the last months, and strongly encouraged me to pursue and look into other matters that I was unsure of—particularly in Alabama, California and Mississippi (which will be the subject of a new series of posts starting next week). I was impressed with many of these writers—with their commitments to the high professional standards which have been the pride of the Justice Department, and their utter despair over the high volume of political sewage which has coursed through the Department since roughly 2002. Their voices are filled with indignation and anger about Gonzales and his wrecking crew, appropriately so. For a farewell to Gonzales, it is only appropriate to turn to one of these career prosecutors who understands the tradition and honor which the Bush Administration has so horribly ruined.
The best farewell piece in the media was authored by Robert T. Kennedy, a man who recently retired after working as a federal prosecutor for 28 years in Tucson, Arizona. He was commissioned by the Arizona Star to mark the occasion with some special thoughts. Here’s what he writes:
When I learned of the pending resignation of Alberto Gonzales, my initial reaction was a mixture of both sadness and relief. Sadness that the state of affairs at the once universally respected and revered Department of Justice had deteriorated so abysmally, but relief that perhaps this noble institution could begin to resurrect its historical role in our system of government as the defender of the rule of law, the Constitution and our civil liberties. . .
Like many of my brethren before and since, I wore the title of assistant U.S. attorney as a badge of honor. It is quite often the best job a lawyer will ever have. For some, their tenure as an assistant U.S. attorney is more than a career, it is a calling. Unfortunately, the pervasive and seemingly intractable allegations pertaining to Gonzales’ professional conduct as attorney general and former White House legal counsel have seriously undermined the public’s confidence that he has steadfastly honored that same oath.
For federal prosecutors, the rule of law has always been the touchstone in the performance of their duties. Accordingly, we were often reminded by Gonzales’ predecessors that any proposed radical departures from existing law or judicial precedent would require either congressional action or judicial review beforehand. . . Yet, it appears that Gonzales has not only sanctioned but actively encouraged radical departures from existing law, whether it concerns provisions of an international treaty intended, in part, to protect our own soldiers from torture, restrictions on electronic surveillance designed to curtail unjustified invasions of privacy or limitations on the indeterminate confinement of individuals without due process of law. . .
The coup de grâce has been the incredibly stupid, vindictive and mean-spirited dismissals of nine very competent and effective U.S. attorneys and Gonzales’ disingenuous statements intended to justify the sackings. During my career, I served under 10 prior attorneys general and a like number of U.S. attorneys in several regions of the country. Some were Democrats, most were Republicans. The majority had been active in party politics beforehand, but they all had a sufficient respect for the rule of law and the good sense to leave partisan politics at the door when they were sworn into office.
However, Alberto Gonzales did not, and that is the sad legacy that we all must now endure.
Two attorneys general in my lifetime (John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst) were indicted and convicted of serious crimes, one of perjury in statements to Congress. Yet Alberto Gonzales’s betrayal of his responsibilities as attorney general and his betrayal of the values that we have associated with the Justice Department make him easily the worst attorney general in America’s history, and the one who has most damaged the reputation of the institution. Good-bye, Fredo. But don’t forget that you still owe us a raft of explanations for what you’ve done. We look forward to seeing you back in the witness chair, no longer under the burdens of responsibility of the office of attorney general.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Pairs of moose-dung earrings sold each year at Grizzly’s Gifts in Anchorage, Alaska:
An Alaskan brown bear was reported to have scratched its face with barnacled rocks, making it the first bear seen using tools since 1972, when a Svalbardian polar bear is alleged to have clubbed a seal in the head with a block of ice.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”