I’ve been as busy for the last few weeks as a Halliburton executive packing for the big move to Dubai. Let’s just say that my pre-café legal career summoned me back for a time. So, being the kind and gentle spirit he is, Winston has agreed to fill in for me in this week’s episode, by allowing us to publish an open letter he just wrote on behalf of the café to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
(Check back in one week for another exciting new café episode, to be posted a full week early to make up for the one I missed last week! Am I great or what?)
The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 55: A letter to the consigliere
by Steven C. Day
Dear Attorney General Gonzales:
Face it: It’s time for you to say goodbye. The dam that’s been holding the ocean of secrets back is beginning to give way and soon, very soon, the flood will come. And there isn’t one chance in ten you’ll survive it.
It’s that bad, sir, isn’t it? Impeachment bad, penitentiary bad.
I’m talking, of course, about the real story behind the purge of the US attorneys, the ugly details of which I’m sure you know by heart, but about which the rest of us can still only guess. We can smell the rot, though — like a dead rat decaying behind the drywall.
We know it’s there, but we haven’t been able to get our hands all the way around it — not yet. We don’t know how deep the rot runs — how ugly this will ultimately prove to be. We know you lied, but in an administration in which the words communication and deceit have come to be all but synonymous that’s small potatoes indeed.
Have you committed a crime? Perjury? Obstruction of justice? Lying to Congress? That’s actually a crime, you know, lying to Congress, even though I suspect you view it more as an art form. Although come to think of it, I really don’t give a rat’s ass what the criminal law has to say about you.
I don’t want you to go to jail, Mr. Gonzales (although you probably should); I want you to give me my country back. You know, the one that used to be based on the rule of law — a concept you plainly consider to be as quaint as you do the Geneva Conventions. You recall the theory surely, a nation of laws and not men. They covered it back when you were in law school. Hell, they covered it in your junior high civics class. Remember, it was the thing that supposedly made us different from nations like Iran and Cuba; the thing that made us better.
It was John Adams standing on principle in defending the British troops who fired on the crowd in the Boston Massacre. John Quincy Adams fighting for the slaves from the ship Amistad. And Abe Fortas representing a penniless Clarence Earl Gideon before the US Supreme Court.
You’ll notice, sir, that none of these examples involve locking up malefactors. What concerns me more than that is the role that the rule of law plays in protecting Americans from abuse of power by the government. And I’m willing to bet you the weight of Dick Cheney’s ego in gold that it will be in this very area that one day the worst abuses will be found to have occurred.
Paul Krugman has it right, doesn’t he? The real story isn’t the US attorneys you canned; it’s the ones who were able to stay on the job precisely because, unlike the few sent packing, they were more than happy to turn the temple of justice into a fully owned subsidiary of the Republican National Committee. The weight of the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. As Krugman reports:
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.
There are two parts to this, of course, the first being the concern, just discussed, over the potential use of unjustified criminal investigations, or even prosecutions, for political gain. There is, for example, as Krugman notes, strong reason to suspect that partisan politics played a role in the much ballyhooed election time investigation of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. On the other hand, we have the even more curiously timed removal of Carol Lam from her post as the US Attorney for the Southern District of California — a “personnel change” that just happened to coincide with Lam’s increasingly aggressive investigation of criminality within the Republican Congress.
Actually, in Lam’s case, my analogy to a rat decomposing behind the drywall loses its punch: It would take at least a rotting wildebeest to produce a smell to compare to the stench coming from this one. As Josh Marshall, who’s been all over this story, notes:
What people tend to overlook is that for most White Houses, a US attorney involved in such a politically charged and ground-breaking corruption probe would have been untouchable, even if she’d run her office like a madhouse and was offering free twinkies to every illegal who made it across the border. Indeed, when you view the whole context you see that the idea she was fired for immigration enforcement is just laughable on its face. No decision about her tenure could be made without the main issue being that investigation. It’s like hearing that Pat Fitzgerald was fired as Plamegate prosecutor for poor deportment or because he was running up too many air miles flying back and forth from Chicago.
Precisely right. Firing Lam under these circumstances demonstrates a degree of audacity (and desperation) almost comparable to Richard Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre during Watergate. There must be something pretty awful hidden in that closet, Mr. Gonzales, for you (and Bush) to act this recklessly. And it isn’t like you didn’t foresee the political storm these actions would cause: According to The Times, the plan for carrying out the firings included a warning to “prepare to withstand political upheaval.”
But let’s be clear on something: We’re not talking about the run-of-the-mill corruption that infests this presidency like fleas on a stray dog. No, this is something profoundly more troubling. When you corrupt the administration of justice by dragging the rule of law through the mud, you aren’t just stealing our money: You’re stealing our democracy. The rule of law is democracy’s life blood — what separates true democracies, like the United States, from fraudulent ones, like the old Soviet Union, and, sadly, increasingly the new Russia. The right to vote by itself isn’t ultimately the point: It’s the right to have that vote translated into controlling law that gives the process meaning.
When a lawless administration strips this power from the people, by claiming the prerogative to act in a role more akin to the Devine Right of Kings, the democratic process becomes a joke, and a bad one at that.
And as for individual liberties, including the right to be free from governmental harassment, remember it was James Madison who worried that the Bill of Rights would become a mere “parchment barrier,” with little practical power to protect personal freedoms. I gather that you agree with him, Mr. Gonzales, although, unlike Madison, you (and Bush) seem to view this as an opportunity, instead of a threat.
And that quite simply, sir, is un-American.
And it’s long past time for you to go away.
So be gone, Mr. Consigliere man. Resign. Quit. Skedaddle. Shove off. Hit the road. Ramble on rambling man. Scoot. Take a hint. Scram. Fly like the wind. Scamper off. Take a hike. Crawl away. Leave. Get lost. Take your leave. Get the hell out of Dodge. Head out. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. Depart. Vacate. Retire. Take off. Spend more time with your family. Move on. Disappear. Break camp. Split. Run along. Walk into the sunset. Vamoose. Head for the hills. Withdraw. Run away. Vanish.
Yeah, I like the sound of that — vanish. Head back to Texas and live high on the hog. Just stay the hell out of my democracy.
The seat you occupy inside the house of justice is far too big for you. And at this point you have nothing to offer it aside from further disgrace. So go now, sir. In the name of all things sacred, be gone before you do even more damage. Because God knows you’ve already done more than enough.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
* * *
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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