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Justice Ends Bush-Era U.S. Attorney Scandal With a Whimper, Not a Prosecution

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The Justice Department's two-year investigation of Bush administration officials involved in the U.S. attorney scandal of 2006-2007 ended curiously last week amid the shouting over Shirleygate, and only the stoutest of major media outlets much noticed or marked the ignoble occasion.

Surely, you remember the U.S. attorney scandal. It occurred when officials at George W. Bush's White House and Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department fired (unusually, in midterm) eight successful, Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys. The circumstances gave rise to suspicions, and later circumstantial evidence, that the government lawyers were sacked because they weren't sufficiently rowing in the same ideological direction as their bosses. There were investigations. There were hearings on Capitol Hill. There were resignations. As a measure of severity, and judging it by the great Washington scandal of my generation, there was even another Monica (Goodling, that is).

For those of you now tuning back in, don't worry. You didn't miss much. The song remains the same. Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, and Karl Rove, the former presidential adviser, fudged and fussed and never fully cooperated with the investigation. The president and vice president were spared the inconvenience even of subpoenas. Former Attorney General Gonzales was reprimanded -- but not officially sanctioned -- by government officials. And he and his sub-cronies, who systematically replaced professional attorneys at the Justice Department with partisan hacks, will not face prosecution (or, evidently, further investigation off Capitol Hill).

No indictments, and likely no more investigations for Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, Monica Goodling and the rest of the old gang at Justice.

The Justice Department eased off this past week -- notifying the world of its intentions through a letter to the lawmakers -- despite an acknowledgment by federal lawyers that there is evidence that the conduct of these men and women was improper -- "inappropriately political" was the euphemism employed. For example, few who saw Gonzales' performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2007 will ever forget it. Yet although the misconduct from high officials damaged the credibility and the reputation of the Justice Department -- it still has not recovered -- there has been no meaningful public accounting from the federal government.

As Harper's magazine contributing editor Scott Horton explained so well: If you are inclined to be dissatisfied with the outcome here, there are plenty of culprits to point at besides the bad actors themselves: It starts with (1) former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who in September 2008 appointed (2) Nora Dannehy, a Republican-appointed federal prosecutor, who immediately limited the scope of the investigation and signed off on last week's coup de grace. Instead of looking into the pattern in the firings -- there were eight in all -- Dannehy narrowed the scope of her work into a focus on the premature firing of David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico. And then there is (3) current Attorney General Eric Holder, who signaled long ago his lack of appetite for re-litigating even the worst legal moments of the Bush era.

And the man at the center of the controversy has now become the second former high-ranking Bush administration official in the past two weeks to play the victim. On the heels of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jay Bybee's complaint last week over the grief he has received for authorizing what have been termed the "torture memos," Alberto Gonzales appeared on CNN after the Justice Department's verdict had been handed down. Instead of expressing the relief he surely must feel at having dodged a federal criminal indictment, Gonzales said instead: "I feel angry that I had to go through this. That my family had to suffer through and what for?" What for, indeed.

Of the scandal itself, Gonzales repeated his long-held story: "I made the decision based upon what I thought was best for the department and for the American people. All these investigations have now confirmed that this was not to influence improperly any ongoing investigation or to punish anyone for political reasons." I guess it all depends upon what your definition of "inappropriately political" is.

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Alberto Gonzales was a (pardon the pun) "bush league" attorney general. I was embarrassed for our country when he assumed office. "the definition of 'torture' to mean "Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." That sounds like the attorney general for the Taliban or some other third world country, not the attorney general of the United States of America.

My concern is not that he faced no charges, but that no steps will be taken to prevent some idealogue posing as the attorney general from doing it again.

July 26 2010 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lykey Incognito

If you want to look back and attempt to laugh, the Gonzales Cantata (the opera based on those infamous Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and featured on Rachel Maddow) is being performed in Baltimore in February of next year:

July 25 2010 at 8:43 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

The increasingly politicized Justice Department's loss of independence from the White House is a huge blow to America. It's a very sad statement of the Justice Departments inability to maintain the independence needed to represent America with honesty and integrity above all.

July 25 2010 at 6:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Justice in the USA: Only for the rich, and connected.

July 25 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

How can you prosecute someone for doing the same thing that your doing? All of Washington is curpted !

July 25 2010 at 2:25 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

And Pilosi, Reed and Obama wonder why progressives are so angry. Before there was "Impeachment is off the table" (Pelosi) and "The public option is off the table" (Pelosi again) and "We don't have the votes to break the filibuster" (Reed)....There was "Let's move forward and not look into the rearview mirror" (Bush, Rove, Cheney, Gonzales and Obama) Now we get veiled threats from Pelosi...If you don't support us, you'll get the Bush Administration all over again. What has the Obama administration done that the Bush administration hasn't? End the health care and financial reform effort by claiming credit for bills that are all title and no substance? Bury investigations into torture and malfeasance? They both walk like a duck and quack like a duck.

July 25 2010 at 2:20 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

they all are the same. you do not give yo-yo POWER....

July 25 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

These US Attorneys were there because President Bush wanted them and were no longer there when he did not want them. It is common practice to keep or not to keep them at that level. They were not elected nor were they hired with the understanding that they would have "hearings" or any kind of approval by the Democrats. Ho Hum!!!

July 25 2010 at 1:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

"Yet although the misconduct from high officials damaged the credibility and the reputation of the Justice Department- it has still not recovered-there has been no meaningful accounting from the federal government". Recovered?? In case Mr. Cohen hasn't noticed it has gotten worse. Much much worse. When a Justice Department gives a free pass to any segment of society there is something seriously wrong. Is it possible Mr. Cohen, that the Justice Department just could not find any criminal acts in the case?? I have to wonder why you are so disappointed??

July 25 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Many of the same people who complained about this didn't say boo when Clinton did it and have been protecting and making excuses for Charlie Rangle for over two years now. I don't think things will turn out so well for Charlie.

July 25 2010 at 12:09 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to pete's comment

They didn't say "boo" because Clinton never did it, but maybe I missed it, so why don't you post a link to where the Clinton Administration sacked justice department lawyers for not toe'ing the democratic party line? To paraphrase your side's favorite saying since 1/22/09, "Clinton isn't President anymore so stop trying to use him as an excuse"

July 25 2010 at 12:21 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Cliinton did not fire 8 attorneys, he fired them all, which was legal. Bush made the mistake of being bi-partisan and left the Clinton appoitees in place. To find that 8 of them were not doing their job as expected by Bush and then to fire them was understandable. The question was whether or not it was legal. The current Justice Department said that no crime was commited. So what's the problem???

July 25 2010 at 1:12 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

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