Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gonzales Under Fire

I try to leave coverage of national politics to others, but the controversy around Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is about the administration of justice, not just politics, so I'll mention a few developments:

  • Today former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey testified to a Senate committee about conflicts between the White House and the Justice Department in 2004. He refused to approve a sensitive program -- probably the NSA warrantless wiretap program. Then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called on Attorney General John Ashcroft in the hospital to try to get around his decision. Ashcroft also declined to approve the program. White House Pushed Ashcroft on Wiretappings, Wash. Post, May 15, 2007.

  • Yesterday Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty announced his resignation, effective in late summer. He says the publicity about the U.S. attorney firings was not a factor, and people close to him say he was planning to serve only two years all along. Still, there has been a lot of heat.
    McNulty became a central figure in the furor after he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in February that the White House played only a marginal role in the dismissals -- a characterization that conflicted with documents later released by Justice and with subsequent testimony.

    He also said most of the prosecutors were fired for "performance-related" reasons. That statement angered many of the former U.S. attorneys, most of whom had sterling evaluations and had remained largely silent about their departures.

    The fallout has led to a deepening rift between Gonzales, who was upset by the testimony about former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins, and McNulty, whose supporters believe he has been tarred by missteps and possible wrongdoing by former Gonzales aides, according to numerous Justice officials.
    Justice Dept.'s No. 2 to Resign, Wash. Post, May 15, 2007.

  • Today
    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he relied heavily on his deputy [McNulty] to oversee the firings of U.S. attorneys, appearing to distance himself from his departing second-in-command.
    Gonzales: Deputy Was Pointman on Firings, Wash. Post, May 15, 2007.
    Sen. Arlen Specter, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called McNulty a "professional" and then added: "It's embarrassing for a professional to work for the Department of Justice today."

  • This morning, a group of Gonzales's law school classmates ran an ad in the Washington Post with an open letter to him.
    As members of the post-Watergate generation who chose careers in law, we understood the strong connection between our liberties as Americans and the adherence by public officials to the law of the land. We knew that the choice to abide by the law was even more critical when public officials were tempted to take legal shortcuts. Nowhere were we taught that the ends justifies the means, or that freedoms for which Americans had fought and died should be set aside when inconvenient or challenging. To the contrary: our most precious freedoms, we learned, need defending most in times of crisis.
    The letter takes what should be uncontroversial positions -- against torture, for habeas corpus, against warrantless surveillance, for separation of powers, against firing able U.S. attorneys solely because of partisan politics -- and urges respect for the rule of law.

    I would not have paid much attention to this ad, except I'm also a member of the Harvard Law School class of '82. (I didn't know the future AG: it's a big class!) I missed our 25th reunion week before last, but Mr. Gonzales did not (see AP story, CNN, April 29, 2007). I'm proud of my classmates who decided to write the letter after his visit (and I was happy to add my name to it).

    To see a (teeny) copy of the letter, go to And, Yes, I DO Take It Personally. The letter also got coverage in a New York Times blog: Law School Classmates Criticize Gonzales, The Caucus, May 14, 2007.

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