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Steve Chapman
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Politicized Justice Is Not Justice

Comment

In his zest to purge enemies in the government, Richard Nixon was so thorough that he set out to remove a "Jewish cabal" at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. President Bush and his subordinates may match Nixon for paranoia. Some of them lay awake nights wondering how to keep ideologically questionable applicants from infiltrating the Justice Department's summer internship program.

According to the department's inspector general in a report issued this week, they had some success in heading off this potential catastrophe — eliminating many candidates with subversive affiliations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But the report condemned the effort, finding that it involved official misconduct and broke the law.

Political abuses in the summer internship program may be no more than a minor threat to honest government. The same cannot be said of abuses in the hiring and firing of federal prosecutors, which the inspector general is also investigating. Back in 2006, the Justice Department abruptly dismissed nine U.S. attorneys, some apparently because they declined to prosecute certain Democrats.

One of those fired was David Iglesias of New Mexico, who was shown the door after deciding not to seek indictments in a case involving a Democratic state senator — and after getting ominous phone calls from congressional Republicans asking how the case was proceeding.

Another was Todd Graves, who had refused to file a vote fraud case against the state of Missouri. His successor filed it, but Graves was vindicated when a federal court tossed it out for lack of evidence.

That successor is now contemplating the criminal justice system from a different vantage. Bradley Schlozman, The Wall Street Journal reported recently, could be the target of a grand jury investigation stemming from possible perjury in his testimony on Capitol Hill.

He may not be the only one who will get to know federal prosecutors in an entirely new way. The New York Times disclosed that a federal grand jury has "begun to examine statements by Justice Department officials about hiring decisions in the civil rights division, where some employees said they were subject to a political litmus test."

The 2006 firings violated a long tradition of independence for U.S.

attorneys, who are appointed by the president but actually work for the people. It betrayed a zeal to use government power to advance partisan purposes at the expense of justice.

It also confirmed the remark by John DiIulio, a conservative scholar who quit as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives after making an unpleasant discovery: "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, run by the political arm."

If you want to know the source of Barack Obama's success, look no further. Republicans think they will win once Americans figure out he's more liberal than he sounds. But Obama's appeal lies less in any supposedly moderate ideology than in his rejection of a corrosive but prevalent view: Government is nothing more than partisan warfare, and may the stronger side win.

The Bush administration thinks every aspect of governance should serve the ends of the Republican Party. Obama says — and may even believe — that some matters should be above politics.

In the case of federal prosecutors, that is not a new view but an old one. U.S. attorneys are political appointees but not, traditionally, political agents. They are supposed to advance justice without fear or favor. To turn them into partisan attack dogs is to make the law merely a weapon of those in power.

Republicans may dismiss such notions as 8th-grade civics tripe, or as sour grapes from those whom the American people have wisely kept out of the White House. But it also happens to be the view of Bush's former deputy attorney general, James Comey.

In testifying before Congress about the intrusion of politics into the hiring of career prosecutors, he said, "If that was going on, that strikes at the core of what the Department of Justice is. Ö It deprives the department of its lifeblood, which is the ability to stand up and have juries of all stripes believe what you say and have sheriffs and judges and jailers — the people we deal with — trust the Department of Justice."

Public trust was once something the department could take for granted. It would be nice if, four years from now, it is again.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman. To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



Comments

2 Comments | Post Comment
Mr. Chapman displays an ignorance of fairly recent history that destroys the credibility of his article. It is an established, publicly recorded fact that the Clinton administration fired ALL federal prosecutors at the same time, early in the first term. While the fact was noted in the media, it was responded to with a shrug. Obviously, he wanted his own people in those positions. Later, we learned that at least one of the fired prosecutors was going after someone close to Clinton. Needless to say, that investigation was not pursued by the new prosecutor.
Less well known is that the Clinton administration used its power to harrass its political opponents. After losing the Democrat majority in Congress in 1994, the IRS began investigating the National Rifle Association. Over the next 6 years, the NRA spent millions of dollars dealing with the investigation, which failed to find anything amiss at the NRA. The underlying objective was also thwarted: the Clinton administration wanted the membership list. I wonder what for?
When it comes to abuse of power, there is less to be learned examining Republicans, than there is examining Democrats.
Comment: #1
Posted by: davd w pennington
Thu Jun 26, 2008 3:26 PM
Well, Mr. Pennington, it's the selective firing that exposed the Bush-Cheney game, isn't it? Just ask the voters. And as far as the NRA is concerned, there is no more adept and deadly player of hardball than they, so I wouldn't shed too many tears over their getting a little taste of their own medicine. ......................................................................................................................................................................................................
As for you, Mr. Chapman, you caught my eyes with the phrase: "...and may even believe...". He may indeed.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Thu Jun 26, 2008 5:28 PM
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