Don’t discount the Justice Department’s Gonzales probe

I suspect that a lot of people had an instant, “Yeah, right,” reaction when they first heard that the Inspector General of the Justice Department is investigating Alberto Gonzales’s misleading testimony before Congress.  Given past experience, only a fool would not be at least a little skeptical.

But don’t be too surprised if this turns out to be a good deal more than a toothless PR exercise.  There are still a lot of fine public servants at the Department of Justice, including, of course, many lawyers working in the career service.  And I will guarantee you that a bunch of these folks are furious over the way Gonzales has pissed all over their department’s reputation.

Up to this point in the Bush Administration, all too often the political hacks at Justice have held inappropriate sway over criminal investigations, and there’s no reason to think the administration’s basic game plan has changed: but the ability of the Bushies to manipulate the process has almost certainly diminished now that the spotlight is on them and many of the top politicos are heading for the hills.  As a practical matter, it would probably be impossible at this point for any political appointee to successfully derail an active investigation into the former AG’s conduct.

Believe it or not, I actually won’t be that surprised if I wake up some morning to discover that an indictment has been handed down or even a plea agreement reached.  It could happen without our ever having known that a criminal investigation, as such, had even formally been opened.

It may not happen: but it’s not nearly as long a shot as some people may believe.   

Update: Related to the point that there are still many fine lawyers serving at Justice, see this post by Scott Horton.

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