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(Photo of elephant trunk via Greg George.)

UPDATE:  The DoJ has pre-released AG Gonzales' opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of the April 17th hearing.  C-Span has it in full here.  (PDF)  Thought everyone would want a peek at it.

What do you get when you fill the government with people whose primary interest is in getting ahead — and not in fulfilling their job obligations for the long-term benefit of the American public?  You get a self-dealing mess:

Actually, I began earlier, in the first Nixon administration, as a college intern in 1971. But I was there again in the Watergate era, when I worked in part of the Attorney General's Office during my first year of law school in 1973-1974, and then continuously as a trial attorney and office director for nearly 30 years. That adds up to more than a dozen attorneys general, including Ed Meese as well as John Mitchell, and I used to think that they had politicized the department more than anyone could or should. But nothing compares to the past two years under Alberto Gonzales.

To be sure, he continued a trend of career/noncareer separation that began under John Ashcroft, yet even Ashcroft brought in political aides who in large measure were experienced in government functioning. Ashcroft's Justice Department appointees, with few exceptions, were not the type of people who caused you to wonder what they were doing there. They might not have been firm believers in the importance of government, but generally speaking, there was a very respectable level of competence (in some instances even exceptionally so) and a relatively strong dedication to quality government, as far as I could see.

Under Gonzales, though, almost immediately from the time of his arrival in February 2005, this changed quite noticeably. First, there was extraordinary turnover in the political ranks, including the majority of even Justice's highest-level appointees. It was reminiscent of the turnover from the second Reagan administration to the first Bush administration in 1989, only more so. Second, the atmosphere was palpably different, in ways both large and small. One need not have had to be terribly sophisticated to notice that when Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey left the department in August 2005 his departure was quite abrupt, and that his large farewell party was attended by neither Gonzales nor (as best as could be seen) anyone else on the AG's personal staff.

Third, and most significantly for present purposes, there was an almost immediate influx of young political aides beginning in the first half of 2005 (e.g., counsels to the AG, associate deputy attorneys general, deputy associate attorneys general, and deputy assistant attorneys general) whose inexperience in the processes of government was surpassed only by their evident disdain for it.

Having seen this firsthand in a range of different situations for nearly two years before I retired, I found it not at all surprising that the recent U.S. Attorney problems arose in the first place and then were so badly mishandled once they did.  (emphasis mine)

This is part of an extraordinary interview for The Legal Times that appears online at Several readers sent me the link to this, and I'm grateful to them for it. It is quite a read, stunning in its discussion of the attitudes of the Bushistas who came in to the DoJ — and other government agencies — with the aim to advance their careers, and with a disdain for all things governing. Not the best of combinations, is it?

Alberto Gonzales has an op-ed in the WaPo today in an attempt to do pre-testimonial CYA.  Emptywheel has ably deconstructed it this morning.  And, via TPM, I find a great article from McClatchy that delves even further into the politicization question — and the damage this hint of taint can do to the notions of fairness and justice.

Philip Heymann, a Harvard law professor and former deputy attorney general under Reno, said the Justice Department has always been vulnerable to allegations of playing politics with prosecutions.

"But these allegations are vastly greater and more credible," Heymann said. "Really good attorney generals go out of their way to keep appearances straight as well as realities. I think something serious has been going on, and I think it's terribly important that it come out.

"If politicians were going to the White House and saying they didn't want this or that case brought, and the White House was letting the U.S. attorneys know by firing them, it would be terribly immoral and destructive."

He is absolutely correct that the only way to purge this taint is for everything to come out — and I mean everything, on all sides of this. Because the nation's judicial system is too important a part of a healthy government to do otherwise — and our representatives in Washington need to understand that it isn't just the political implications at stake here, but the very foundations of our government.

If you ask me, all roads lead to Rove: (H/T to reader WB for the link)

Karl Rove and other White House employees were cautioned in employee manuals, memos and briefings to carefully save any e-mails that might discuss official matters even if those messages came from private e-mail accounts, the White House disclosed Friday.

Despite these cautions, e-mails from Rove and others discussing official business may have been deleted and are now missing….

However, some of those RNC accounts were used to discuss official matters, including the firing of eight federal prosecutors, which has triggered investigations on Capitol Hill. Democrats contend that politics was improperly inserted into Justice Department decision-making about which attorneys should leave.

Though official White House e-mail is automatically preserved in accord with the Presidential Records Act, e-mail that was used by the employees with RNC accounts was not always saved.

President Bush has given Rove and his merry band of malignant political hacks free rein to do whatever they please with the halls of government, so long as the results of these actions give him what he wants — power.  This ends justfies the means method of governance is designed to do one thing, and one thing only:  keep George Bush happy.  The fact that a few rules and regulations had to be trampled in the process?  Well, that's just collateral damage, isn't it?

This morning, Anonymous Liberal at C&L walks through all the various permutations of the legal and ethical requirements on this. And what it adds up to for me is that this was a deliberate choice to evade oversight and public scrutiny. Using outside e-mail addresses to discuss all the more controversial plans and machinations, with the thought being that no one outside your political operative wing would ever see them?  Welcome to Smarmville. 

In Gonzales, the White House political shop installed a pliant enabler, whose inability to manage his stapler was exceeded only by his ability to be led by the nose by political operatives installed in positions below him.  Gonzales is Harriett Miers without the greeting card franchise.

And those of us in America who care not only about the competence, honesty and intellect of our nation's top law enforcement officials have had to sit back and watch the Department of Justice languish into sinking mediocrity and political machinations.  It has been painful, indeed, but most difficult of all for those lifetime civil servants who have been fleeing the DoJ in droves, just as we saw a previous flight in the purge of the CIA ranks of all those analysts and agents who might have had the temerity to think for themselves or to dare to present conflicting or honest opinions to the White House staff.  And at any number of other agencies as well.  That Gonzales would enable this disgusting politicization at all levels of the DoJ is nothing short of disgusting.  But he is far from the only person who ought to be held responsible for it.

In short, what we are seeing is a federal government remade in George Bush's image:  seeing only what it wants to see, finding a way to manipulate the data to pretend it is getting the results it longs to hear…and failing utterly to actually govern with any level of competence.  And those depleted ranks are now filled with people whose idea of the "best President ever" is Goerge Bush.  This sucks.

Bring on the sunshine.  Now.

PS — And while I'm asking questions this morning, this is really bugging me:  If, as Gold Bars Luskin says, Rove didn't think he was doing anything wrong by repeatedly deleting e-mails or having someone else do it for him.  And if the RNC didn't think there was anything wrong with it either.  Why on earth would the RNC go through the trouble of setting up a system designed to cache each and every one of Rove's e-mail seperate and apart from everyone else in the entire system so that those e-mails would stop getting deleted altogether?  Why just Rove?  Why deem that important?  I mean, if it wasn't a big deal and all, why put yourself through the trouble — and why have to do so only for Rove, if there was no deliberate action going on, why would you have to design a whole system solely to make sure that Karl Rove's e-mails didn't keep disappearing?  Hmmmm?

Seems to me if you put your tech folks through the trouble of designing an internal safety mechanism to prevent outside actors from deleting things off your system, you've identified a security risk.  That this risk appears to have centered around Karl Rove's emails — and Rove's e-mails ALONE — then that ought to raise an awful lot of questions in an awful lot of people's minds.  But perhaps the computer folks among us can enlighten me otherwise.

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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