Monday, April 09, 2007

Yet another Gonzales roundup

Over the weekend, Monica Goodling -- having taken the Fifth to avoid testifying before Congress -- abruptly resigned from the Justice Department, becoming the second high-ranking Justice official to become unemployed over this "overblown personnel matter," as Gonzales first referred to the prosecutor firings.

And Newt Gingrich became the latest Republican to say Gonzales is toast.

The most interesting thing about Goodling's firing -- besides the questions it raises, fair or not, about what she might have had to hide -- is that it highlights a two-pronged administration practice: Prizing loyalty above competence, and relying heavily on Pat Robertson's law school -- a poorly rated evangelical Christian institution -- as a source of those loyalists.

On the one hand, as with the prosecutor firings, the administration has every right to put anyone it wants in appointed posts. But that political power carries with it a public responsibility that the administration seems to have roundly ignored. The problem, as Andrew Cohen succinctly puts it:

There is no longer a meritocracy in place at the Justice Department when it comes to hiring decisions. Where the Department once was staffed by some of the best and brightest lawyers in the nation, now it has become a repository for the Monica Goodlings of the world. If you were a dedicated federal prosecutor, a Bush appointee, would you want some younger lawyer from some fourth-rate law school determining your future? You wouldn't. And yet that's precisely what happened here to our Gang of Eight. They weren't judged by the best and the brightest and the most seasoned and respected attorneys in the nation; they were judged by Monica Goodling, a legal disciple of Pat Robertson.

The fact that the appointees are Christian isn't the issue, although the law school in question does point out the pull that Pat Robertson and his fellow travelers still have on the GOP, to its detriment. Robertson, you may recall, is the caricature who blamed Hurricane Katrina on abortion, suggested that God would wipe out a gay-pride parade and who, along with Jerry Falwell, blamed 9/11 on abortion, feminism and gays. I'm unimpressed by the GOP's continued association with him.

No, the problem here is putting party and politics above all else. There's an old joke about how Republicans rail about government incompetence, and then prove it when they get elected. The Bush administration apparently failed to realize that it was meant to be a joke.

And it may be what led to situations like this:

Ms. Thompson, a purchasing official in the state’s Department of Administration, was accused by the United States attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, of awarding a travel contract to a company whose chief executive contributed to the campaign of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Ms. Thompson said the decision was made on the merits, but she was convicted and sent to prison before she could appeal.

The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle’s opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s “corruption” to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won.

The Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit seemed shocked by the injustice of her conviction. It took the extraordinary step of releasing Ms. Thompson from prison immediately after hearing arguments, without waiting to issue a ruling. One of the judges hinted that Ms. Thompson may have been railroaded. “It strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin,” Judge Diane Wood told the lawyer from Mr. Biskupic’s office.

The fear that this sort of thing was commonplace is the main reason the prosecutor firings is a scandal, even though the firings themselves were legal. Gonzales lying to Congress was simply an inept cherry on top.

Coincidentally, here in Minnesota we may have a related development. Three managers in the office of recent U.S. attorney appointee Rachel Paulose are resigning and returning to prosecuting cases, apparently a reaction to Paulose's "abrasive" and "disrespectful" management style -- prompting a senior Justice Department official, John Kelly, to fly in to mediate.

It's a case of "he said, she said" at this point: Is Paulose the problem? Or is it her assistants? That said, it's highly unusual that three of them resigned at the same time -- taking demotions and pay cuts in the process -- when they had no problem working with her predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger.

This could just be a standard, apolitical personnel issue -- the kind that can roil any office regardless of politics or the administration in charge. Paulose's defenders, for example, say the three had problems taking direction from a young woman, which is plausible. But the timing is enough to make you go "hmmm."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems in the Bush administration competence is inversely proportional to ones position in the hierarchy.
Inexperienced know-nothings being told to judge the performance of experienced prosecutors.
May be they were good soldiers out to just implement King Karl's orders.
I guess loyalty not competence was the the only job qualification requirements.

4/09/2007 4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you know why Monica Goodling is taking the Fifth. I can just see Senator Leahy's question now....

"Ms. Goodling--are you now or have you EVER been a Christian?"

I also find it interesting how the Democrats continue to move the goalposts. First--the big hoopla was about the reasons the attorneys were replaced. Once that was found to be perfectly innocuous and defensible, they moved on to "semantics." Gonzales said "no involvement" they claimed. When he corrected that confusion and told what he meant, they have now moved on to the THIRD excuse for this witchunt: the claim of "incompetency." And all Democrats follow the leaders on this. Nobody thinks for themselves. If it wasn't so pathetic to watch, it would be funny.


4/09/2007 5:43 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Now you know why Monica Goodling is taking the Fifth. I can just see Senator Leahy's question now....

"Ms. Goodling--are you now or have you EVER been a Christian?"

Oh, c'mon. That's just ridiculous.

I also find it interesting how the Democrats continue to move the goalposts.

It's not so much moving the goalposts as following the trail where it leads. Dems have not conceded that the reasons were "innocuous and defensible," Gonzales changing his story does not absolve him of his original errors of fact, and incompetency is not an excuse for the witchhunt; it's simply the most compelling reason Gonzales should go.

4/10/2007 9:02 PM  

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