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The Rule Of Karl Must End

Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  — Lord Acton

When the Founding Fathers of our nation established a government of the people, by the people and for the people, with built-in provisions for the protection of the rule of law against the tyranny of the majority through a separation of powers into three governmental branches:  executive, legislative and judiciary, they failed to count on one thing:  the Rule of Karl.  In reading through the massive document dump of e-mails from the USAs firings and the DoJ tap dance between Gonzales and the Bush White House, the fingerprints of Karl Rove are everywhere, carefully concealed behind having other people do the actual, written e-mailing so that his hands (and signature line) stay off the direct line of communication — but everywhere nonetheless. 

That he found willing patsies in Harriet Miers and his political deputy, Scott Jennings, and others at the WH to send out all the e-mails?  Not surprising, given the climate at the WH and within the Republican party that "what Karl wants, Karl gets."  Not surprising at all, given his penchant for revenge on all political enemies, regardless of party affiliation.

How could the Founders anticipate that a political party would sell its integrity so cheaply to a craven, power hungry con man who promised them goodies in return for unswerving allegiance and free reign at tyranny of the underhanded?

Politics is not supposed to be the foremost consideration in judicial action.  In fact, it is supposed to be quite far down the list, if there at all, in terms of the factors in play for charging decisions.  The fact that the Bush Administration has attempted to so pervert the legal system as to skew it for its own political gain is appalling enough.  But that they would fire US Attorneys for doing their jobs — and doing them well, in uncovering corrupt acts of politicians regardless of party, or for making charging decisions outside the realm of political vendetta — is unconscionable.

From the US State Department's own website:

For much of human history, rulers and law were synonymous — law was simply the will of the ruler. A first step away from such tyranny was the notion of rule by law, including the notion that even a ruler is under the law and should rule by virtue of legal means. Democracies went further by establishing the rule of law. Although no society or government system is problem-free, rule of law protects fundamental political, social, and economic rights and reminds us that tyranny and lawlessness are not the only alternatives.

  • Rule of law means that no individual, president or private citizen, stands above law. Democratic governments exercise authority by way of law and are themselves subject to law's constraints.
  • Laws should express the will of the people, not the whims of kings, dictators, military officials, religious leaders, or self-appointed political parties.
  • Citizens in democracies are willing to obey the laws of their society, then, because they are submitting to their own rules and regulations. Justice is best achieved when the laws are established by the very people who must obey them.
  • Under the rule of law, a system of strong, independent courts should have the power and authority, resources, and the prestige to hold government officials, even top leaders, accountable to the nation's laws and regulations.
  • For this reason, judges should be well trained, professional, independent, and impartial. To serve their necessary role in the legal and political system, judges must be committed to the principles of democracy.
  • The laws of a democracy may have many sources: written constitutions; statutes and regulations; religious and ethical teachings; and cultural traditions and practices. Regardless of origin the law should enshrine certain provisions to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens: Under the requirement of equal protection under the law, the law may not be uniquely applicable to any single individual or group….
  • It continues through several of our own Constitutional principles and provisions of the Bill of Rights, but you get the idea. This is what we push forward as a model to the rest of the world, as the principles we hold dear — at the very time that Karl Rove's political hatchet minions were entwining our own judicial system in a stranglehold of political vengeance and toadyism.

    The hypocrisy and disdain for which these people hold the principles of freedom, justice and democracy is stunning in its scope and breadth, isn't it?

    During my legal career, I spent a great deal of my time in court either defending accused adult criminals, juveniles and/or abuse and neglect cases or, during the latter part of my work, prosecuting those cases as an assistant state prosecutor.  Early in my career, a number of experienced attorneys took me aside at various points and imparted bits of wisdom gleaned from long years toiling before various judges or clashing with various other attorneys.  The one thing that I know for certain after talking with all of these folks and after handling hundreds of cases myself is this:  the engine that drives our judicial system is a wholesale commitment to the rule of law and to the Constitutional and civil rights principles on which this nation was founded.

    And when there is a deviation from that — from the rule of law, from the precedents set through years of refining our understanding of justice and fairness, from the statutory language and interpretation thereof in case law — things begin to fall apart.  In ugly, wrenching detail, case after case.

    Any lawyer who has practiced for any length of time can tell you horror stories about individual judges who had some axe to grind or another, and who used their position on the bench as their own personal ego fiefdom or to prove an ideological or personal vendetta point to the next rung up in the judiciary.  Worse yet can be stories of prosecutors who had larger political ambitions, and who used their quasi-judicial offices to make headline names for themselves without actually upholding the principles of justice and the rule of law while doing so.

    When I say "quasi-judicial," what I mean is this:  a prosecutor works with their feet in two worlds — the world of law enforcement/punishment/deterrent, putting people in jail and requesting alternative punishments for crimes committed as a means of furthering the public's interest in a safe community.  At the same time, a prosecutor makes decisions as to whether or not a defendant will even be charged and how a case will or will not be prosecuted, in effect acting as the initial judge of the cases brought to them by criminal investigators:  Is the charge properly brought under the law?  Will the public's interest be served in spending the money to pursue this case?  Do the facts fit the requirements under the law for pursuing this to trial, if necessary?  What is the fair and correct way to push this forward — or not?  These are not always easy questions to answer, and they should be looked at with the whole of these factors — and more — in mind, and not simply by looking at the personal benefits that could or could not be gained from any particular course of action.

    In short, the rule of law must be weighed, not the potential for political advantage or personal advancement.

    And, in perverting the way that US Attorneys across the nation were allowed to review their cases, by placing a premium on political advantages to the Republican party, the Bush Administration has undermined a long-standing ethical compact and, in doing so, damaged the foundations of the rule of law.  As Froomkin said yesterday:

    No one would deny that one of the duties of the president of the United States is to place people of his choosing in key positions throughout the executive branch, including in key law-enforcement positions.

    But this White House appears to have lost sight of a distinction that is critical to the maintenance of good government: That just because someone is a political appointee doesn't mean they're supposed to do their jobs primarily as partisans — or that they should be fired if they fail to do so to the satisfaction of political operatives in the White House.

    That is particularly the case with law enforcement. Filling non-law enforcement jobs with political appointees who are incompetent or blindly partisan may well take a toll on the government's ability to do function properly. (See, for instance, David E. Lewis in

    But in law-enforcement jobs — such as the attorney general, the director of the FBI, and the country's 93 U.S. attorneys — overtly partisan behavior is a more troubling problem. While the men and women in those positions serve at the pleasure of the president, it is also a critically important part of their job to remain independent.

    That's because it's flatly un-American for the law to be used as a political weapon. It erodes public confidence in the justice system, and offends the American commitment to fairness. It's the sort of thing that, quite properly, can lead to impeachment.

    When the public's faith in the judicial system erodes because the decisions made regarding initial charges are done in a political, self-serving manner to advance some ideological agenda rather than the rule of law, the tyranny of that particular ideology erodes the very foundations of government overall.   With the thumb of Karl Rove and his political machine weighing heavily on the scales of Justice, how can any of us look at what has occurred over the last six years now with anything but a thoroughly skeptical eye?

    As but one example, Josh Marshall has put together a detailed listing of the actions taken as a result of Carol Lam's prosecution of a web of corruption leading from Duke Cunningham into the Hookergate/Dusty Foggo/Rep. Jerry Lewis intertwined connection — and how intervention to put a stop to this most likely was the motivating factor in removing her.  And that is just detail on a single fired US Attorney — imagine the backstory to be discovered on all the rest of them, including the ones who haven't yet been identified from the last six years.

    As Paul Kiel reports at The Muck, there are murmurs in high places at the WH that the President is no longer so pleased with the AG.  The "two Republicans close to the Bush Administration" are anonymously quoted as saying that the dissatisfaction comes from both Rove and Bolton, who are worried that the AG's unpopularity will reflect badly on the President.  (Read:  Rove needs a high-level sacrificial lamb, and quickly, to avoid a series of Congressional subpoenas.  I smell a Dan Bartlett quote plant, with a Ken Mehlman assist.)

    At the top of this post, I have placed a YouTube of the presser that Sen. Chuck Shumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein gave yesterday on this issue.  (Huge thanks to the folks from PoliticsTV for grabbing this in full yesterday — and for adding in a number of the testimony bits from several of the fired USAs as well.)  I would suggest to both Democrats and Republicans in Congress that nothing less than a full investigation will be tolerated by those of us who hold the rule of law to be more than simply lip service to constituents — the foundations of our Republic are at stake on this one.  A line needs to be drawn that the political hacks are no longer allowed to cross:  we live in a nation which is run on an engine fueled by the Rule of Law, and it is time that everyone in Congress lived up to their responsibility of checking and balancing executive overreach in this regard.

    What needs to be made crystal clear to everyone is that the Rule of Karl is at an end, at long last.  For the sake of the nation.  For the sake of us all. 

    And that, henceforth, this sort of hack behavior will not be tolerated ever again.  The only reason this has come to a head as it has at this point is because the Republican-controlled Congress was voted out in November — because of their long-term rubber stamping pact with Rove, no meaningful oversight on this issue has been done for six long years.  Take a moment and imagine how long this would have continued under the Republican parliamentary power pact had they not lost both houses of Congress.

    Never doubt for a moment the importance of every citizen in participation in government.  THIS is exactly why sunshine and public scrutiny are so important.  It is a Republic, if we can keep it.  And this morning, it's an awfully large "if" that we are looking at with this one, isn't it?

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    Christy Hardin Smith

    Christy Hardin Smith

    Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

    Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com