Doesn’t every White House try to impose its priorities on the career federal bureaucracy? Yes, but not every White House has the Bush crowd’s contempt for the very idea of professional government. To them, it’s just one vast bowl of alphabet soup. What difference does it make if an unqualified hack is put in charge of something called FEMA?
The Justice Department is special, though, because it can be such a powerful tool for rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Decisions about which alleged crimes and alleged criminals should be prosecuted are among the most sensitive any government can make.
Now that a Democratic-controlled Congress is back in the business of oversight, we have learned that Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft, could be prickly in his dealings with the White House. Sometimes when the White House pushed, he pushed back. Ashcroft felt loyal not just to Bush but also to the Constitution and basic principles of justice. Apparently, no such conflict perturbs the dreams of Ashcroft’s hapless successor.
Did all this fly over the heads of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee? Of course not. But House Republicans evidently have made the cynical political calculation that to acknowledge reality would be to grant the Democrats some sort of victory. This, apparently, must be avoided at all costs.
Addendum, Later That Same Evening:
Hereâ€™s the gist of Monica Goodlingâ€™s advice: Even if you think that maybe you might be breaking the law, youâ€™re still blameless as long as you think you didnâ€™t really â€œmeanâ€ to do it. And even if you essentially have to admit that you did break the law, youâ€™re still OK as long as you think your motives were pure, and as long as you think of yourself as (in her words) â€œa fairly quiet girl who tries to do the right thing and tries to treat people kindly along the way.â€
You kids watching at home, I would not advise following Monicaâ€™s legal advice. Granted, this advice comes from a former top official of the U.S. Justice Department, but itâ€™s important to remember that you are living in the Bush era, when it is considered perfectly acceptable to entrust a top Justice post to somebody who has never prosecuted a case in court, somebody who earned her spurs at the Republican National Committee, somebody who earned her law degree from Pat Robertsonâ€™s Regent University, which, last we checked, was rated nationally as a fourth-tier law school. There is no fifth tier.
I strongly recommend the entire column.
But I will attempt a precis of it:
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, especially if you, in the words of the old black man down home, “call yourself a lawyer.”