Congress is preparing to take a vote of “no confidence” in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. I have previously written about the all but complete disconnect between this sort of political theater and the Constitution, which provides for nothing of the kind. In France, sure. Here……
But I digress. The principal “charges” against the Attorney General are that he has given incomplete, inconsistent and misleading information about the reasons for firing eight United States Attorneys. Let’s assume for the moment (without concluding) that this is true. Let’s also concede that the Attorney General has not sparked what could be called enthusiasm among either conservatives or liberals even before this controversy arose. The question remains whether his behavior rises to the level that would warrant a vote of no confidence (if there were such a thing in this country).
Those complaining loudest about the Attorney General’s conduct appeal to the “rule of law.” By this they apparently mean that the Justice Department should follow established legal principles rather than whatever is in fashion politically just now. Fair enough. Having been an attorney in the Justice Department for over 20 years, I can tell you that one of the most important of established legal principles is resolving disputes by referring to precedent — that is, by examing how similar disputes were resolved in the past.
The most recent Attorney General from the opposing party was Janet Reno, affectionately (sort of) known around the Department as Aunt Janet. To the best of my memory, there was never so much as a discussion about taking a “no confidence vote” on Ms. Reno. This was so despite the fact that all of the following took place on her watch.
— Billy Dale, a career employee in the White House Travel Office, was prosecuted on essentially concocted charges, not because he had done anything wrong, but because the President’s wife wanted to put her friends in charge of that Office. The case went all the way to the jury, which entered a not guilty verdict in record time. Later the White House coughed up some muffled apologies.
— The Justice Department used something closely resembling an army to attack the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. As a result of the attack, which proceeded by way of firebombing and a tank assault, 58 people were killed. Almost every one of them was innocent of anything at all, and many were children.
To be fair, there was a credible reason to use some degree of force in that instance. There were reports that the fugitive being sought, David Koresh, was holed up with a chache of arms, and that there was on-going child abuse. In addition, one or two federal agents (ATF agents, if I recall correctly) had been shot by persons inside the compound. Under those circumstances, the Justice Department could not simply take a pass. Nonetheless, the number of deaths was staggering for a law enfocement operation; if a federal assault on the most violent drug gang in the country produced one-tenth those casualties, there would be an outcry from here to MoveOn.org. And one can only wonder whether, if President Bush presided over such a thing next week, there would be calls not merely for a “no confidence vote” against him and his Attorney General, but for impeachment.
— Elian Gonzales, a six year-old Cuban boy staying with relatives in Miami, was removed from his home in a 4 a.m. raid coordinated by the Reno Justice Department and using assault weapons, machine guns and agents in full body armor. This was not even a criminal case. It was a custody dispute between Elian’s Miami kin and his father, who was in Castro’s Cuba and wanted to return his son to that Workers Paradise/Political Prison.
— A strict wall of separation, higher than then-existing law required, was maintained between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This had the effect, which would not be fully felt until September 11, 2001, of compartmentalizing information that, had it been seen as a whole, could have provided a more complete and realistic picture of what the 9-11 terrorists were up to. (Not that the Reno Justice Department showed prepossessing interest, or any genuine interest at all, in terrorism).
None of these episodes, alone or taken together, provoked calls for a Reno no-confidence vote. But when Alberto Gonzales gives a blunderbuss, garbled version of why eight politically appointed US Attorneys were fired, he’s too far gone to remain as Attorney General.
Now I think the title of this piece was, “This Could Give Double Standards a Bad Name.”