Mukasey Should Balk At Pitcher Probe

Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
Let's turn our gunsights a bit in Washington.

A few weeks ago, we had them all aimed on Capitol Hill, on the House side, because we thought that the Congressional hearings into Roger Clemens' steroid use were, well, gravely unimportant given the immense tasks that the legislators have before them this election year. Go get us a domestic surveillance bill instead, we cried, or at least do something about gas prices, or airline delays, or Social Security.

But on Wednesday Congress passed the Clemens' butt - I mean buck - over to the Justice Department with a request that Clemens' frequent and intermittently fervent denials about steroid use constitute perjury.

Now the legislators can slap their hands and say: "After wasting everyone's time and making a former baseball legend look even more foolish than before, we've done all we can do here. Attorney General? Your turn!" And, indeed, it is the Justice Department's turn to handle this small potato.

So let's take aim at Justice and make virtually the same arguments - albeit with different facts to support them - we made about the Congress. Does our embattled Justice Department have anything better to do in the spring of 2008 than to prove that Roger Clemens was (or was not) injecting something into his butt (or having his trainer do it)?

The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

If anything, the Justice Department has more serious work to tackle than does Congress, if it wants to wrap up the Bush Era with a bang and not a whimper.

What else does the Attorney General have on his plate that's more serious? Let me count the ways ...

How about trying to figure out why violent crime rates in American cities increased so much during Alberto R. Gonzales' reign of error at the Department?

How about figuring out ways in which rural and suburban law enforcement agencies can better respond to the drug crises that are sprouting up in Middle America - beyond the glare of the networks and cable howlers?

Not enough? Still want the feds to spend thousands of hours tracking down Jose Canseco's party guests? OK. I'd rather have the Justice Department investigating how it came to pass that, under the Terrorist Surveillance Program, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended up with all those private domestic e-mails they weren't supposed to have. The more thorough that investigation would be, the less likely we would see such a mistake happen again, correct?

Or how about devoting more personnel to giving us answers the Justice Department promised when it comes to the U.S. Attorney investigation, languishing now six months after Gonzales resigned as Attorney General?

How about making sure that Justice has enough people to vigorously pursue the investigation the department just launched last week into the question of who, precisely, authorized the simulated-death torture we now know as "waterboarding"?

Still not satisfied? How about the Justice Department looking a little more closely at the oil companies who keep jacking up our rates? Or the sleazebags who have set up loan-sharking fronts in the form of used-car dealerships? They prey on vulnerable immigrants who don't know how illegal their loans can become. Or the villains in the sub-prime mortgage fiasco who - a generation after the S&L crisis - were able to game the market and foul up the economy.

Roger Clemens?!?

Memo to Mukasey: Don't waste a penny of my tax dollars pursuing Clemens for perjury about steroids until you start prosecuting steroid users and sellers (which you can). Don't waste an ounce of energy going after the Rocket until you've cleaned up the internal mess that Gonzales left in the wake of the U.S. Attorneys scandal. Don't spend an hour of your time on Clemens until you are sure that the Justice Department is protecting - not limiting - the constitutional rights of citizens during this time of terror.

The Justice Department isn't going to restore its tattered reputation by chasing down the likes of Roger Clemens. It is going to bring back respect by doing the tough, gritty work that the Justice Department used to be known for; the type of work that puts away in prison bad people while protecting good people in meaningful ways.

Is your life going to change if Clemens goes to the pokey? Of course not. But it could change if the Justice Department shuts down the meth lab that you didn't know was operating in your neighborhood.

Congress just passed a hot potato over to the Justice Department. Mukasey and Company should simply drop it and move on - bigger spuds to fry, you might say.
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