Let the Resignations Begin
Attorney General Michael Mukasey yesterday announced the resignation of Thomas Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Anti-Trust Division.
Barnett was confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division on Feb. 10, 2006. He became acting Assistant Attorney General on June 25, 2005, and previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General since April 18, 2004.
I suspect many of Bush's political appointees had their resumes out before the election. It's not like the handwriting wasn't on the wall.
In addition to an Attorney General, Obama will appoint 93 United States Attorneys, one for each district. These jobs are political plums. They don't always (or even mostly) go to trial lawyers. U.S. Attorneys rarely try cases themselves (Patrick Fitzgerald is one exception who comes to mind), they run the office and implement the agenda of the new Attorney General and the Administration. [More...]
As for who should be Attorney General, I hope it is not Eric Holder or Janet Napolitano or any high-level official of the Obama campaign. One cannot serve two masters. The Attorney General must represent the people and when he or she is too close to the President, we get into trouble. Think, Alberto Gonzales or John Mitchell.
As Eric Holder himself said in 2006:
"The attorney general is the one Cabinet member who's different from all the rest," said Eric Holder, who was a deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. "The attorney general serves first the people, but also serves the president. There has to be a closeness at the same time there needs to be distance."
Obama should appoint a neutral rather than an advocate as Attorney General:
The tension between serving two masters -- the Constitution and the president -- defined the tenures of many of Gonzales's predecessors, from Robert Kennedy, who was attorney general in his brother's administration, to John Mitchell, who was a campaign manager for Richard Nixon before -- and after -- serving as Nixon's attorney general. President Reagan appointed two confidants to the attorney generalship -- first his personal lawyer William French Smith, and then his close White House adviser Edwin Meese.
Janet Reno didn't know Clinton before her interview for the job. Bush and Ashcroft weren't close -- maybe at the end that's why he was able to balk in the hospital at signing on to the re-authorization of Bush's warrantless electronic surveillance program.
In the end,
Cornell Clayton, a professor of political science at Washington State University, said that in the judgment of history, attorneys general "who become the mouthpiece for presidential claims of power don't enjoy the best reputations. Those who have been great attorneys general were those who were more willing to stand up to the president."
It has been tradition for all U.S. Attorneys to submit their resignation letters after a presidential election. As I wrote here,
The U.S. Attorney's job is a plum, a reward for party loyalty, sacrifice made or money raised during the Presidential campaign. It's not about a prosecutor who was so skilled at prosecuting, he or she had a great record. Many U.S. Attorneys have no recent prosecutorial skills. In Colorado, for example, after Tom Strickland, a partner in a huge politically influential law firm, lost his bid for Senator, President Clinton made him U.S. Attorney, based on the recommendations of Colorado's Senators. The U.S. Attorney we have now was a crony of former Governor Bill Owens. The U.S. Attorney's wife was made a state Supreme Court justice. Others will argue they were qualified for their respective positions. Baloney, in my opinion. It's politics as usual. If John Kerry had won in 2004, we'd have a different U.S. Attorney. The one who got the job would have done so based on a sacrifice or contribution made to Kerry's election.
One exception is likely to be Illinois U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Obama told the Chicago Tribune he would not be replaced.
Barack Obama, March 14, 2008, in an exchange with columnist John Kass, who was sitting in on the editorial board’s meeting:
Kass: “[You have told us before] that you would reappoint or seek to maintain Patrick
Fitzgerald as the United States attorney.”
Obama: “I think I said it here in the boardroom.”
Kass: “Given the investigations that are going on now, if you’re elected president ...”
Obama: “I still think he’s doing a good job. Yes.”
Kass: “Would you keep him? And why would you keep him?”
Obama: “I think he has been aggressive in putting the city on notice and the state on notice that he takes issues of public corruption seriously.”
There could be more, as Obama has promised a bi-partisan administration. My view is that bi-partisanship is far less important than independence when it comes to the Justice Department. They all will seek to put people in jail. We just need it to be as fair a process as possible.
It will be interesting to watch Obama's appointments for Attorney General and U.S. Attorney. If it's politics as usual, those appointed will be those who helped Obama and the Democrats win. If Obama is serious about change, perhaps we'll see some non-partisan champions of justice.
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