Check politics at door of Justice Department

Yes, Alberto Gonzales’ name was “dragged through the mud,” as President Bush complained Monday after his attorney general announced he was resigning.

But Gonzales jumped into the pit quite on his own. Head first. And the president’s reaction, typical for its abject lack of self-responsibility, reflected the arrogance that finally helped bring Gonzales down.

It’s no surprise that neither Gonzales nor Bush offered anything even resembling regret for any of the attorney general’s self-inflicted wounds. Give the administration high grades for consistency — it doesn’t admit its mistakes.

But Gonzales made plenty.

He was on the front lines of the administration’s charge into warrantless wiretapping, and while still working as White House counsel had the audacity to try and convince his ailing predeccesor — alongside his hospital bed — to approve it.

But the chief cause of his undoing was his coup on the integrity of the Justice Department, which he attempted to retool as a political arm of the White House. He steadfastly denied that his firings of eight U.S. attorneys, including respected Republican John McKay of Seattle, were improper. But they were clearly done for political reasons — in McKay’s case, likely because some of Bush’s supporters here were angry he declined to pursue local allegations of voter fraud. (McKay said there wasn’t enough evidence to justify a deeper investigation.)

In the aftermath, Gonzales showed an incredible — literally — lack of memory during testimony before Congress. Some of what he did recall was later countered by his own subordinates. Even many leading Republicans in Congress had long ago joined calls for his ouster.

Yes, U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president. He can fire them for any reason. But when he chooses to do so to further partisan political ends, a very clear line of integrity is crossed.

Good U.S. attorneys like McKay are careful to check their partisanship at the door. The officer who leads the Justice Department should be held to no less of a standard. That must be the lesson learned from this sorry tale of hubris and underhandedness, and it must be taken to heart by future presidents of any party.

It’s the people’s Justice Department, not the president’s.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Flowers bloom on the end of a dead tree on Spencer Island on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Restore salmon habitat but provide view of its work

Comments are sought on a plan to restore fish habitat to the island east of Everett with popular trails.

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, Sept. 21

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Sheriff Fortney over-reacted to Herald’s coverage

Sheriff Adam Fortney posted an 11-minute video rant in response to an… Continue reading

Arlington Mayor Tolbert cares for youths in community

In order to have youth develop into well-adjusted adults it takes a… Continue reading

Congratulations to AquaSox on a successful season

Congratulations to the Everett AquaSox baseball team for their successful and enjoyable… Continue reading

Comment: Terms like ‘abortion tourism’ meant to fabricate outrage

Are women crossing state lines to see a Broadway show, eat at Momofuku and grab a relaxing abortion? Please.

Comment: Consumer sentiment may be suffering from ‘long covid’

Even as the economy has improved, public sentiment hasn’t. Is it a lagging reaction to the pandemic?

FILE - Six-year-old Eric Aviles receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from pharmacist Sylvia Uong at a pediatric vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11 set up at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. In a statement Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, California's public health officer, Dr. Tomas J. Aragon, said that officials are monitoring the Omicron variant. There are no reports to date of the variant in California, the statement said. Aragon said the state was focusing on ensuring its residents have access to vaccines and booster shots. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Editorial: A plea for watchful calm this time regarding covid

We don’t need a repeat of uncontrolled infections or of the divisions over vaccines and masks.

A construction worker caulks the siding on a townhouse at The Towns at Riverfront housing development in Everett on October 25, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Editorial: How do we put housing within reach of everyone?

A Herald Forum panel discussion considered the challenges and solutions for affordable housing.

Most Read