The president, the purge and the politicization of justice

The image of justice in this country is supposed to be a woman wearing a blindfold and holding a scale, symbolizing fairness and impartiality.

Well, there have been some changes made lately to Lady Justice. The blindfold and scale are gone. She's now wearing a "W" T-shirt and her outreached hand is giving a middle-finger salute to us all.

What began as an overambitious effort to solidify the ranks of U.S. Attorneys with "loyal Bushies" has developed into a spectacle illustrating the excesses of George W. Bush.

Evidence points to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, political guru Karl Rove and several other administration officials being involved in an effort to fire eight U.S. Attorneys who either didn't pursue enough cases against Democrats, refused to back off on investigating Republicans, or just stood in the way of giving plumb jobs to their friends. After all, we can't afford fairness and impartiality. There's a war on.

Having been caught lying to Congress about the political nature of the firings, Gonzales tried to claim that because there are 110,000 people working in the Justice Department, he can't know what his own chief of staff Kyle Sampson was doing to purge U.S. Attorneys for not being loyal enough to the president. But recovered e-mails show Gonzales himself was discussing this purge since before he was even Attorney General.

The e-mails point out just how blatantly political this purge was.

"The real problem we have right now is Carol Lam," Sampson wrote to White House Deputy Counsel William Kelley on May 11. This is the same day that news broke that Lam, the U.S. Attorney who put crooked Congressman Duke Cunningham in prison, had expanded the investigation to include Rep. Jerry Lewis, the highest-ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. Sampson went on to explain that Lam needed to be replaced as soon as possible.

This isn't so much partisan as it is thuggish, the acts of a megalomaniacal mob on a power trip, rewarding cronies and crushing enemies. The power they seize comes not from Democrats, but from all of us. Criminal enterprises are left to flourish while federal prosecutors engage in partisan witch hunts. They crack down on "voter fraud," their code for trying to make sure as few of the "wrong" people vote as possible, while turning a blind eye to their own rampant corruption.

President Bush is The Decider. He discussed the plan to replace the attorneys with Gonzales, but claims he didn't know the details. He didn't need to. He set the tone that all should be done to advance his fortunes and those of the party, regardless of any perceived notions about restraint. Those who did his bidding in the past were rewarded with Medals of Freedom for engineering slam-dunk disasters. This is the president who has never fired anyone for anything, except disloyalty.

By all accounts, Gonzales is slavish toward his president. It was the main concern at his confirmation hearings, whether he could stop being the president's lawyer and be the nation's lawyer. His empty assurances placated the Rubberstampers who make up Congress, at the same time he was planning the U.S. Attorney purge with Rove.

There's about as much chance that Gonzales went against the president's implied wishes as there is that Dick Cheney will give up guns and government and join Greenpeace.

Representative government survives due to the restraint of those empowered by the people to lead them. Checks and balances are in place to help curb the excesses of power, but not all loopholes can be closed. There is no law that says a president can't politicize the Department of Justice. But to do so is to put a stake in the heart of what so many Americans have struggled and died for. It's so wrong that no one saw the need to make a law to forbid it.

That's before President Signing Statement came along. Bush feels empowered to ignore any law that runs contrary with his vision of the "unitary executive," and Alberto the Enabler is there to cheer him on.

Politicization has spread through this government like the flu, poisoning the intelligence that led us to war in Iraq, covering up the financial realities of tax cuts combined with out-of-control spending, and overriding the Constitutional checks and balances we thought we enjoyed.

Outraged officials from both sides of the aisle are calling for Gonzales' head, as they should. But they aren't swinging the sword high enough.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of, and also writes a blog on national issues at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment