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Integrity…Or Not

Huge thank you to John Amato of Crooks and Liars who pulled this video clip for me and converted it.  You are a peach, John!

Last Saturday, I was on a panel with Jonathan Singer of MyDD, Taylor Marsh, Digby and James Rucker of  It was ostensibly a panel on the “hot topics” of the day in terms of news items but, on Saturday, we were all really pissed off about how things were going with the FISA mess.  As you can see from the above video excerpt from the C-Span replay of the panel, we made that pretty clear.

Because the time for the panel was limited (we were the “opening act” so to speak for the Presidential debate, and we could not run over time as a result), I did not get to discuss this:  the single most important weapon in any law enforcement officer or legal practitioner’s arsenal is their reputation for integrity and even-handed application of the law.  Without that, you have an enormous up-hill battle with witnesses, judges, and opposing counsel and, worse, you are virtually guaranteed a start from a postition of doubt and difficulty with jury pools once you throw that away.

Elizabeth de la Vega had a great piece this week lining out the specifics on the law involved in some of the AG questions, but it was this point that resonated above everything else:

The truth is, as Arlen Specter is well aware, this scandal is not just about perjury. Gonzales’s lies are merely a subset of the shameless, and shameful, course of deception that has been carried out by the White House with regard to their warrantless domestic wiretapping, and so many other areas of their governance, over the past six years. This prolonged deceit is a crime, too, of course: It’s a conspiracy to defraud the United States in violation of Section 371 and, even worse, a massive abuse of executive power.

Except that “massive abuse of executive power” is the understatement of the century in this context, isn’t it?

That the Bush Administration has played fast and loose with the rule of law from the start is appalling enough.  It certainly shows their lack of real world experience in a courtroom setting — any trial lawyer worth anything could have told them that this posturing, politicization, and corner-cutting was a long-term nightmare for the DOJ’s strength and reputation.  The consequences of their lack of integrity ripple out across every law enforcement officer and prosecutor in the federal system and beyond — and we all pay the price for that

No one more so, however, than the law enforcement personnel who have to deal with the real world results of this every single day.

After the panel started replaying this week on C-Span and C-Span radio, I’ve started getting notes from law enforcement types from across the country about what was said.  And what it has meant to them to have to deal with all of this, day in and day out, in their own jobs.  Let’s just say it isn’t pleasant, and I wanted to share one note in particular with everyone as a sort of representative sample. I have modified it slightly to remove anything which might point to a particular person, because this is, after all, quite a vindictive bunch in the White House and these folks have enough to deal with on the job right now as it is:

I heard a rebroadcast [of your panel] from Yearly Kos, while I was driving home [in the DC metro area, from my law enforcement job].

I was applauding in my car…as you spoke so eloquently on the need for tight controls on wiretaps etc…

We are a nation of laws… and there is no reason, terrorism or no… to destroy the fabric, our most basic fabric of civil liberties, which are the protections against unlawful search & seizure, as guaranteed by the 4th amendment to the Constitution….

By the way, do you have any notion of how disheartening it is to see the Attorney General of The United States, lie, refuse and obfuscate in the face of the United States Senate? If I did ANY of that crap in a court, not only would my case be instantly thrown out… I’d lose my job pretty much on the spot.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I have been so pissed off about this piss poor behavior for so long. The lack of integrity by Alberto Gonzales and his political ilk at the DOJ, taints the process for everyone else in law enforcement. The President’s disregard of the rule of law taints the entire system for all the rest of us.

There are not two sets of laws — one for the President and his pals, and another for the rest of us.  The President of the United States is no more above the law than I am.  In America, the rule of law is king — not some wanna be cowboy who sits in the power chair for a few short years surrounded by sycophantic “yes men” and toadies.  And I will not sit by silently and watch this charade harm the strength of the nation’s law enforcement — and neither should any of you.

The most appalling part of all of this integrity-free zone that is the Bush White House is that they are so crassly unapologetic about it.  Witness, for example, this disgusting display from Karen Hanratty of The Hill on yesterday’s Hardball.  Crooks and Liars has the whole clip, and Digby has a spot-on summary:

Hanratty: (angry, eye rolling) How old are you and how naive are you that you honestly think that this town isn’t built on patronage?

Klein: How cynical are you that you believe you should support that political patronage and excuse anything they do?

Hanratty: Give me a break. That has nothing to do with supporting it…

Klein: You think Scooter Libby should pay no price, that prosecutors should get fired. Is this how we’re doing it now? This is sad. How far we’ve fallen.

…There is no such thing as ethics. And hell, even if they do something blatantly illegal, the president ought to pardon them. They admit it. They’re proud of it.

Sadly, I’m not sure the old fashioned notion of a non-partisan federal judicial system is going to be able to recover from this. I always knew US Attorney’s were “political.” But you relied on the fact that most of them had a higher calling to the law and had an interest in keeping the system free from this sort of blatant politicization. The Bush administration and its ethics-free supporters, have quite successfully destroyed that. It’s now out in the open any action a Republican takes in any branch of government is nothing more than an exercise of self-serving, raw political power. That’s probably a good thing for everyone to finally internalize and learn to deal with.

It is not that this is how things are, currently, under the Bush regime — the point is that this should never, ever be acceptable.  To anyone. This behavior is so crass, so despicable, so beyond the boundaries of acceptable that no person with an ounce of integrity should ever be able to say “politicizing the Department of Justice is okay because everyone does it.” Jeebus, my granny wouldn’t accept that sort of lame-ass excuse from me when I was four — why in the hell would I accept it from a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration?

At what point did it become publicly acceptable to admit that you have no moral scruples whatsoever? To just say right out that striving for equal application of the law and a more just society was just a lot of claptrap and that people should just shut up and take the corruption? I mean, honestly, I missed the memo that said we’re just going to sink into the mire of self-dealing cynicism without a fight.

But Digby is wrong about one thing:  I know people who work in federal law enforcement, and I hear from a lot of other folks — both retired and current — from all over the country.  These are decent, hard-working people committed to the rule of law and justice, and who have more integrity in them individually than the whole of the Bush Administration put together.  The Bush Administration may have altered public perception, but the truth is that these folks are incredibly decent and committed to the rule of law, and they will be there long after the Bushies are put out to pasture.  They deserve much better than what they are getting right now.  And we ought to all stand up as one and say so.

I stand for the rule of law and integrity.  What say you?

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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