No Comment — September 14, 2007, 3:00 pm

Fredo’s Last Day

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.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

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.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2017

Preaching to The Choir

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Monumental Error

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Star Search

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Pushing the Limit

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bumpy Ride

Bad Dog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Article
Star Search·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 3, 2016, less than a month after Donald Trump was elected president, Amanda Litman sat alone on the porch of a bungalow in Costa Rica, thinking about the future of the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton’s director of email marketing, Litman raised $180 million and recruited 500,000 volunteers over the course of the campaign. She had arrived at the Javits Center on Election Night, arms full of cheap beer for the campaign staff, minutes before the pundits on TV announced that Clinton had lost Wisconsin. Later that night, on her cab ride home to Brooklyn, Litman asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Bumpy Ride·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

One sunny winter afternoon in western Michigan, I took a ride with Leon Slater, a slight sixty-four-year-old man with a neatly trimmed white beard and intense eyes behind his spectacles. He wore a faded blue baseball cap, so formed to his head that it seemed he slept with it on. Brickyard Road, the street in front of Slater’s home, was a mess of soupy dirt and water-filled craters. The muffler of his mud-splattered maroon pickup was loose, and exhaust fumes choked the cab. He gripped the wheel with hands leathery not from age but from decades moving earth with big machines for a living. What followed was a tooth-jarring tour of Muskegon County’s rural roads, which looked as though they’d been carpet-bombed.

Photograph by David Emitt Adams
Article
Bad Dog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abby was a breech birth but in the thirty-one years since then most everything has been pretty smooth. Sweet kid, not a lot of trouble. None of them were. Jack and Stevie set a good example, and she followed. Top grades, all the way through. Got on well with others but took her share of meanness here and there, so she stayed thoughtful and kind. There were a few curfew or partying things and some boys before she was ready, and there was one time on a school trip to Chicago that she and some other kids got caught smoking crack cocaine, but that was so weird it almost proved the rule. No big hiccups, master’s in ecology, good state job that lets her do half time but keep benefits while Rose is little.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Tons of invasive carp that the Australian government plans to eradicate by giving them herpes:

1,137,000

Contact lenses change the microbiome of the eye such that it resembles skin.

A reporter asked Trump about a lunch the president was said to have shared the previous day with his secretary of state, Trump said the reporter was “behind the times” and that the lunch had occurred the previous week, and the White House confirmed that the lunch had in fact occurred the previous day.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today