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The People’s Business

Senate Judiciary Committee from the 109th Congress
Senate Judiciary Committee in the 109th Congress, including incoming chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). (photo credit — Newsday)

No one was surprised that President Bush used his weekly radio address to lecture the Democrats for avoiding the people's business in their efforts to find out more about the US Attorney scandal.

Members of Congress now face a choice: whether they will waste time and provoke an unnecessary confrontation, or whether they will join us in working to do the people's business. We have many important issues before us. So we need to put partisan politics aside and come together to enact important legislation for the American people.

Many in the media ignored this misdirection, but alas, a few oracles of national maturity and reasonableness fell for it. Here, for example, is how David Broder describes the Democrat's investigation:

It seems doubtful that Democrats can help themselves a great deal just by tearing down an already discredited Republican administration with more investigations such as the current attack on the Justice Department and White House over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Broder isn't just saying that the investigation won't help Democrats; he's calling the investigation itself an "attack on the Justice Department." So if the Democrats have reason to believe that the Bush Administration abused the Justice Department by allowing White House political operatives to interfere with prosecutorial discretion in specific cases, trying to expose that is an "attack on the Justice Department." And if the White House were actually doing those things and the Democrats ignored it as the Republicans did for six years, would Broder call that "protecting" the Department? How did the "dean" of American journalists become so ethically confused?

And consider this from George Will, who explains why Americans who are appalled at what the Bush/Cheney regime has done to America should blame themselves for undermining politics:

The politics of disdain — e.g., Howard Dean's judgment that Republicans are "brain dead" and "a lot of them never made an honest living in their lives" — derails politics by defining opponents as beyond the reach of reason. The anger directed at Bush today, like that directed at Clinton during his presidency, luxuriates in its own vehemence.

Will doesn't explain how he can equate the scurrulous efforts of the unprincipled Newt Gingrich with the efforts of a Patrick Leahy, a respected former prosecutor, but never mind that. Will only wants everyone not to be angry at the Bush regime's monumental incompetence, policy recklessness, defiant lawlessness and lying the country into war. Or perhaps he's saying that no one should listen to anyone who is angry about this regime. Okay, I'm calm, but how are we supposed to feel, George? What is the mature, reasonable reaction to such behavior by our nation's highest officials? Perhaps George should listen to his fellow conservatives, because they sound pretty upset.

David Brooks invites us to draw "a proper distinction" (Times Select) between good and bad political interference, but he's really asking us to ignore the clear signs of felonious obstruction of justice by copping to the comparatively minor offense of lacking character:

When you look at the prosecutors who were fired by the Bush administration, you see some who were fired for proper political reasons and some who were fired for improper ones. Carol Lam seems to have been properly let go because she did not share the president's priorities on illegal immigration cases. David Iglesias seems to have been improperly let go because he offended some members of the president's party.

But what's striking in reading through the Justice Department e-mail messages is that senior people in that agency seem never to have thought about the proper role of politics in their decision-making. They reacted like chickens with their heads cut off when this scandal broke because they could not articulate the differences between a proper political firing and an improper one.

Moreover, they had no coherent sense of honor. Alberto Gonzales apparently never communicated a code of conduct to guide them as they wrestled with various political pressures. That's a grievous failure of leadership.

Ah, so the problem here was just a lack of honor and Gonzales' failure to communicate clear rules to childlike DoJ employees. Never mind the fact that Bush chose this dishonorable man as his personal attorney, then his White House Counsel and then the Attorney General of the United States. Does Brooks imagine that George W. Bush is learning all about the dishonorable, incommunicative Gonzales as though it were the first time? My god, wait until our befuddled President learns about Karl Rove! Brooks' game is to retain some credibility by admitting there might be situations in which firings for political reasons would be inappropriate. But while conceding that Senators should not call prosecutors at home about pending cases, Brooks ignores the more serious possibility that the Bush White House was systematically using the Department of Justice as a shield for corrupt Republicans, their lobbyists and donors, and using it as a weapon against Democratic voters, both by pushing bogus voter fraud cases and in shamelessly undermining the DoJ's standards in voting rights cases involving likely Democratic voters. Nothing going on here, folks — just obstruction of justice and undermining democracy — so move along. But oh, we should avoid firing US Attorneys if they "offended some members of the president's party." Yep, that personal stuff is out of bounds. It's just not civil.

There was a reason why the White House had its own political operatives in the Justice Department and why they were loyal to Karl Rove; it's the same reason why an ethically pliant weakling like Gonzales was picked to be Attorney General. It was the same reason why those minions to whom Gonzales delegated the dirty task of compiling a list of targeted US Attorneys knew they had to check with Karl Rove before sending a final list to whomever Gonzales and Miers thought should ratify the final decisions. It's the reason why whether Gonzales attended a November meeting in which the list was discussed or didn't attend is essentially irrelevant beyond confirming that Gonzales is not an honest man. And that reason has nothing to do with Brook's notion of "good" versus "bad" politics. Let's be clear for Mr. Brooks. The Justice Department/White House scandal is not about offending Republican Senators, though the Senator from New Mexico may well have flirted with obstruction of justice. And the scandal has little if anything to do with whether the dismissed attorneys were sufficiently focused on immigration, as Brooks hopes. This scandal is a thousand times more serious.

This scandal is about the White House effort to transform a portion of the Department of Justice into a criminal enterprise, a weapon to be wielded by Karl Rove, the White House' senior political operative, to secure and maintain a Republican regime and ruling majority. Its tactics can't be described as either "good" or "bad" political interference; they were criminal, because they included undermining the nation's voting laws to selectively discourage Democratic voters, abusing prosecutorial discretion to intimidate or destroy Democratic officials and shielding Republican officials and Republican lobbyists and contributors from exposure for their corruption, all of which was linked via Abramoff/Cunningham type scandals to funding the Republican party.

The types of DoJ and WH employees who would be willing to sustain this criminal enterprise were precisely those whose fundamental disregard for the rule of law and common decency would also countenance the use of torture, rendition, denial of due process and habeas corpus and other assaults on the principles of fair and honest trials. They were people to whom the Fourth Amendment was an irrelevant distraction and to whom the Geneva Conventions were quaint relics. They are the same types who had no qualms enabling vested interests to evade proper regulation and public accountability as they bilked the public and plundered the nation's treasure and resources. Does Brooks really believe that all these people lacked was a code of conduct conveyed by Gonzales? Were they just folks with whom George Will would have enjoyed a civil chat?

To run a lawless enterprise, the regime needed a handful of lawless people at key positions in the Justice Department, and to protect them from a possible Democratic Senate, they needed to have the selection of these henchmen outside Congressional approval. These in turn would hold the rest of the enterprise in check through fear and political intimidation. All they needed from the media and every honest attorney — probably the bulk of the US Attorneys and career public servants in the Justice Department and agencies — was their silence — and for five years they mostly got it, while stifling the few whistleblowers courageous enough to speak up. But every honest and self respecting employee in the Department and throughout the US government should be appalled and everyone should be speaking out. It is your country, your agencies and your careers and reputations they subverted, and it's still going on.

What this regime has done to DoJ is like a cancer on the very notions of justice and the rule of law. If left unchecked, it can infect all of government. Uncovering the full extent of this cancer and rooting it out are essential not only to restoring confidence in the Justice Department and its fair administration but in reestablishing the rule of law throughout government.

In pushing this investigation, the Democrats are doing an essential aspect of the people's business. If George Will, David Brooks and David Broder cannot see this, that is a pity, but then no one should look to these men to advise us on how to restore public trust in government.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has more here and here about why this is so important. (h/t jayackroyd)

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley