Pursuing Justice

It isn’t only FEMA. Everywhere you look, Administration officials are doing “a heck of a job.”


A recent audit of the Justice Department, conducted by the department’s own Inspector General, concluded that only two of Justice’s twenty-six issued reports of terrorism prosecutions have been accurate. The department has routinely inflated the number of terrorists being charged by including immigration, marriage fraud and drug trafficking cases entirely unrelated to terrorist activities.


Maybe this was just an honest series of reporting errors, rather than an effort to pad the statistics for political purposes, but either way, it is just one more disquieting piece of evidence that—to put it mildly—all is not well at Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department.


While it’s no secret that Constitutional scholars have been overwhelmingly critical of Gonzales’ embrace of the so-called “unitary executive” theory (which places the President above the law in many situations), his interpretation of Presidential authority can be categorized as an honest difference in perspective. Other problems cannot be so easily dismissed.


There is, for example, the case of Sue Ellen Woolridge, until last month the chief of the department’s environmental enforcement division. Woolridge bought a million dollar vacation home with one Don Duncan, the top lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. Nine months later, on behalf of the Justice Department, she signed a settlement agreement with ConocoPhillips that allowed the oil company to delay installing pollution-control equipment and to delay paying fines. Making this deal smell even worse was the identity of the other co-owner of this beach house: Ms. Woolridge’s “boyfriend,” Stephen Griles, a former lobbyist for the oil industry who had been appointed to an environmental enforcement position at the Department of the Interior, and who is currently under investigation in connection with the shenanigans of Jack Abramoff.


Can we spell “appearance of impropriety?”


The Congressional investigation into Woolridge’s activities has now been joined by several inquiries into the firings of seven U.S. Attorneys. All were Republicans appointed by Bush, and all but one had received positive job reviews. The Washington Post reports that “most of the prosecutors were overseeing significant public-corruption investigations at the time they were asked to leave.” One of them—Carol Lam, of San Diego—had obtained a guilty plea from Randy “Duke” Cunningham, and had just indicted others in connection with that case, among them a high ranking CIA official.


Gonzales has thus far ignored communications from Congressional committees requesting an explanation of these firings.


John Dean, former White House Counsel for Richard Nixon, recently summed up the situation at the Justice Department. Calling for Gonzales to resign, Dean’s criticism was trenchant.  “In the history of U.S. Attorney Generals, Alberto Gonzales is constantly reaching for new lows. So dubious is his testimony that he is not afforded the courtesy given most cabinet officers when appearing on Capital Hill: Congress insists he testify under oath. Even under oath, Gonzales’ purported understanding of the Constitution is historically and legally inaccurate, far beyond the bounds of partisan interpretation.”


Heck of a job.