Let the Resignations Begin

Update: Michael Garcia, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is also leaving early. He's going to Kirkland and Ellis.

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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  • Display: Sort:
    If Obama Is So Intent (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by bob h on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 02:30:52 PM EST
    on having some Republicans, why not reappoint some of the fired prosecutors, like David Iglesias, Carol Lam?  Would send a nice message.  

    For God's sake, don't give any cabinet jobs to Republicans like that horses's ass Lugar.

    Definitely Carol Lam (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Fabian on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 02:56:15 PM EST
    She was apparently fired for being too good at her job.  Even being a Republican wasn't enough to save her. In the Bush administration, you had to be a boot licking lackey in addition to being a Republican.

    please use asterisks (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 02:42:27 PM EST
    with words like as*.  Thanks.

    Dont' worry about it, Obama isn't appointing (none / 0) (#17)
    by BrassTacks on Sun Nov 09, 2008 at 03:31:59 AM EST
    Any republicans.  His lists are ALL democrats.  When was Obama NOT a partisan?  Never.  

    Of course all the Bush people have been looking for jobs.  It doesn't matter who won the election, they know their jobs are gone.  Every President appoints his own people, party has nothing to do with it.  Bush's time is up, so are all his appointments.  That's how it works.  


    I think he should put just a couple (none / 0) (#19)
    by thereyougo on Sun Nov 09, 2008 at 06:01:09 PM EST
    in some low level capacity, just so that they silly GOP crybabies can't call Obama a flip flop.

    I recall Transportation Sec. Norm Mineta(?)(they named an airport after him in San Jose) of Calif served in the Bush admin., until his death. I don't know who replaced him.


    The political reality. . . (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 02:40:08 PM EST
    dictates against an independent Attorney General.

    I absolutely agree with Jeralyn that the post should be completely independent of any political interest.  And I'd believe that in practice, as well, if it weren't for the Republican party.

    The Republicans have a history of misusing the law to persecute and to try to topple Democrats.  The President needs someone who will guard against this kind of abuse.  Anyone who is truly independent might be inclined to give a fair hearing even to charges that don't deserve any hearing at all.

    When Obama stresses the fact that he's a "Chicago politician" I take that to mean he knows this game and is prepared to play it.

    I recall (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Steve M on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 02:53:13 PM EST
    that the media was all over Clinton to put someone "independent" in charge of the Justice Department.  I don't recall them ever making similar demands of President Bush.

    I think it is important that the AG not be someone who is widely perceived as hyperpartisan or too close to the President.  That's not to say that it should be a political independent with no ties to the Democratic Party, of course.  They need to be on board with the President's agenda.  But the perception of independence is, in fact, important.


    How'd that. . . (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 04:25:35 PM EST
    all over Clinton to put someone "independent" in charge of the Justice Department

    work out for Clinton, us, or small "d" democracy?  The fact that a special prosecutor was appointed to generally search for any kind of wrongdoing anyway, and that that prosecutor was a far-Right hyper-partisan Republican player was began the insanity that I hope, fourteen years later, we're finally overcoming.


    All I am saying (none / 0) (#12)
    by Steve M on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 05:54:06 PM EST
    is that there are still moderates out there, and you'll have more credibility with them if your AG isn't a toady like Alberto Gonzales.

    The veneer of independence. (none / 0) (#15)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 06:57:17 PM EST
    As with bi-partisanship, the appearance is fine.  Yes, it increases your credibility.  But you also have to take account of the reality of the modern Republican party.  Sure, Gonzales didn't have a great deal of "credibility", but he sure seems to have kept a lot of very guilty people in office.

    The Republicans didn't even try to renew (none / 0) (#14)
    by andgarden on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 06:49:27 PM EST
    the Independent Counsel statute in the 1990s or thereafter.

    Obviously the media (5.00 / 0) (#9)
    by mg7505 on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 05:17:50 PM EST
    will hypocritically call for Obama to be more "independent" than Bush. But the real question is, how can Obama still pull off appointing partisan Dems to key posts without seriously pis*ing off the media? And would it be a bad thing if he did?

    Just a couple of points...... (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by NYShooter on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 05:20:30 PM EST
    1. The idea of "non partisan" is just plain silly. The context of that label means different things to different people; the mere fact that one has the prefix "R" or "D" before their name negates that premise.

    2. Track record means something. Just because an attorney prosecutes an equal number of "R's" and "D's" does not make him/her "non-partisan." If 90% of the crimes were committed by "R's," then 90% of the prosecutions should have been vs the "R's." (And vice-versa.)

    3. The best a President can do is set the priorities as to which crimes do the greatest damage to our democracy. My list would be A. Political Corruption, B. Anti-Trust Violations, and C. Equal Access to the System. (Today, if you ain't got money, you ain't got justice.)

    Bottom line, the position of AG has to be that of a trauma doctor, vital signs first. Our country is so far down the road to becoming a corporatocracy that the label, "Democracy" is in jeopardy of just being something future generations of students will read about.

    Jennifer Granholm (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by incaseofrain on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 06:45:41 PM EST
    I would guess Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is high on the Attorney General list. She was a strong Attorney General in Michigan and is scheduled to leave office due to term limitations in January of 2011. Since she is not a natural-born US Citizen, there are few other options for elective office (lest Senator Levin or Senator Stabenow decide to step down), so I could easily see Obama asking her to serve.

    I would really like (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Steve M on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 06:57:30 PM EST
    to see Gov. Granholm with a role in the administration, although she has a lot of expertise to offer on the economic crisis on top of her legal acumen.

    I have to disagree (none / 0) (#18)
    by BrassTacks on Sun Nov 09, 2008 at 03:36:04 AM EST
    She has not exactly done economic wonders in Michigan.  Things there have gotten worse under her Governorship.  It would be seen as a joke to put her in charge of anything to do with the economy.  imo

    They had an anti-trust division (none / 0) (#6)
    by scribe on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 03:51:15 PM EST
    in Bush's DoJ?

    Who knew?

    I guess the election result and his resignation mean that Mr. Barnett will have to have someone ship his cot and pillow, because that's all the Antitrust division has been good for over the last 8 years.

    Of course they did. (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by LarryInNYC on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 04:23:03 PM EST
    They had an anti-trust division in Bush's DoJ?

    Eight years on and something like one in ten people trust them.


    Are there qualified Republicans these days? (none / 0) (#11)
    by msobel on Sat Nov 08, 2008 at 05:52:39 PM EST