So what if he is mediocre? There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they? We can’t have all Brandeises, Cardozos, and Frankfurters and stuff like that there. Sen. Roman Hruska, on the failed nomination of G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court

On Tuesday March 13, 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez—possessor of a “compelling personal story” which seems necessary to be selected for high office in the TV Age—decided to do it “Texas Style” when he took responsibility for the mess that has enveloped the Justice Department under his watch by invoking that Washington favorite “mistakes were made….” Sadly, these days Texas Style seems to involve channelling the spirit of dearly departed Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, i.e., pleading that “stuff” was happening that he didn’t know about or plain didn’t understand. Either he knew—and is culpable—or didn’t, in which case he’s incompetent and has no business being in the job. There’s simply no winning with “I didn’t know what my underlings were doing behind my back,” not in the long term.

Just so readers know, the mess AG Gonzalez has made includes (but is probably not limited to):

(1) The FBI seems to be invoking National Security Letters (a certain kind of administrative warrant that bypass judges, which has been around for a few decades but was expanded by the Patriot Act) at a rate an order of magnitude larger than they did before the Patriot Act. They also seem to be unable to manage to hold onto sensitive records.
(2) The politically motivated, ham-fisted bulk firing of eight US Attorneys for a bizarre mix of reasons. This one seems to have a true smoking gun, but honestly I worry more about incompetence and laziness at the FBI long term.

As with Ken Lay, Gonzalez seems to be pleading that his organization is too large (110,000 employees) for him to know what’s going on. I wouldn’t expect—indeed would think it unwise—for AG Gonzalez to be spending time managing secretaries and janitors, even if that might have a certain “common man” appeal to it. However, the employees he’s not been supervising include his own Chief of Staff, District Attorneys and Director of the FBI.

No one who’s being realistic attacks the right of the President to terminate Presidential appointees who, after all, serve at the pleasure of the President, though one would at least presume that in the case of prosecutors termination would come for cause since the risk of politicizing the prosecutor’s office is high. (This issue was settled long ago when the post-Civil War Tenure of Office Act went down.) As Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) (not exactly a shrinking violet of liberalism) noted on The New Hour on Tuesday, the problem isn’t termination per se, it’s constantly making up fables about why the prosecutors were terminated. The story is changing more times than a five year old caught next to his crying little sister with a broken cookie jar on the floor. Some of the terminations seem to be legitimate, i.e., “for cause” but at least one seems to be largley to make room for Karl Rove’s buddy and another happened to shut up two prominent New Mexico Republicans by firing a highly regarded prosecutor just before Election Day (see, e.g., this article). Rep. Issa also noted that if the terminations were for performance reasons, it is decidedly odd to wait to do it in bulk. In fact, sneaky end runs around Senate confirmation that was in the Patriot Act seem to have been in the offing, as this eminently quotable line from Kyle Sampson indicates: “If we don’t ever exercise it then what’s the point of having it?” This line, in my view, sums up “the Imperial Presidency” better than anything else.

Saying “While I am grateful for the public service of these seven U.S. attorneys, they simply lost my confidence,” doesn’t say much—anyone who’s not got the confidence of a chucklehead like Gonzalez is at least worth a second look in my book. I wonder what the 85 other US Attorneys who weren’t fired thought of the revelation that ex-White House counsel Harriet Meiers thought they ALL should have been fired. Oh to be a fly on the wall in DoJ’s bathroom….

Of course, ultimately, rot in an organization starts at the top. President George W. Bush has managed to turn loyalty to “his folks” into a vice. It’s hard, but a good leader knows when to put personal feelings aside and terminate subordinates who aren’t performing up to snuff. GWB seems to be totally unable to do this and, well, people underneath him follow his lead. Wasn’t but last week that LTG Kevin Kiley was trying to weasel out of his responsibility for the military hospitals scandal. Fortunately Bob Gates seems to be having none of it; I doubt Donald Rumsfeld would have dealt with such dispatch. I guess that’s what happens when a dumbass frat boy who—in other circumstances—wouldn’t have made it to junior partner in the investment division of a third rate bank in McClennand County, gets elevated WAY past his Peter Principle position.

It also underscores the fact that the Republican-run 108th and 109th Congresses miserably failed at oversight. I guess they were too busy making pork stuffing and trying to legislate the outcome of individual hot-button “Culture War” cases that have no justification for Federal involvement whatsoever to do their jobs. As James Madison knew very well, the system works because of vigilance among branches and fails when one branch starts to feel like it is going to get a free pass.

by MildlyPiquedAcademician