Conviction on a felony works an automatic disbarment. Which helps explain why Alberto Gonzales is so eager to keep his fingers wrapped about the wheel of the nation’s prosecutorial machinery.
The New York Observer takes a careful look at the legal ethics of the man that George W. Bush prefers to call by the nickname of a famous Hollywood mobster.
Could a case be made that the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States should be disbarred? The question has emerged in the wake of what many consider to be damaging testimony by Monica Goodling, Mr. Gonzales’ senior counselor and the Justice Department’s White House liaison, before the House Judiciary Committee on May 23.
Ms. Goodling described a meeting in March where Mr. Gonzales said to her: “Let me tell you what I can remember,” and “laid out his general recollection” that the firings of the prosecutors had been performance-related. At his own appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, Mr. Gonzales told the panel that “I haven’t talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations.”
“It depends crucially on what the facts are,” said David Luban, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “Given the most unfavorable interpretation, there’s clearly a case for disbarment.”
But the case against Gonzales doesn’t rest entirely on the divergences between his testimony and Goodling’s, damning though they are.
In gripping testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 15, former Justice Department official James Comey described a standoff in the hospital room of then–Attorney General John Ashcroft. President Bush was seeking the reauthorization of the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program. Mr. Comey, then the acting Attorney General, had already refused to recertify the program because of concerns about its legality. But according to Mr. Comey, Mr. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, had raced to Mr. Ashcroft’s bedside to circumvent the department’s ruling.
For Mr. Gillers, this was an obvious example of obstruction of justice, a crime also forbidden by D.C. bar regulations. In his view, the Department of Justice had already deemed the program illegal. “By seeking to advance an illegal scheme with the advantage of D.O.J. approval,” he wrote, “Gonzales seriously interfered with the administration of justice.”
Gonzales’s ace in the hole at this point comes from the fact that he is a member of the Texas Bar. The president’s home state still features highway signs branding itself with the Bush name, and is tenaciously loyal to the Bush political machine even as the rest of the nation has gone sour. Moreover, Gonzales was a former director of the Texas State Bar, and his successor, Harriet Miers–also implicated in serious wrongdoing in the U.S. attorneys and voting fraud scandals–is a former president. All of which speaks volumes about the partisan game and legal ethics in the Lone Star State.