One Less Candidate For Attorney General

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Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
With little regret and even less concern, I am announcing today that I no longer want to be considered by the Obama Administration for the post of U.S. Attorney General. Accordingly, I have withdrawn my name from consideration for the post. I want to spend time with my family (and when I say "family" I mean: "watching more harness racing") and believe that I can best serve the American people by continuing to write 900-word essays on the law that some people occasionally read.

The decision did not come easily to me. In the end, however, I realized that I don't need the massive headaches and pressure that the post will generate in the next few years. The nation's next primary lawyer will have to work overtime to clean up the mess left by his or her recent predecessors: to wit, the U.S. Attorney scandal, the threat of rising crime rates in our biggest cities and drug use in our smallest towns and villages, and the Justice Department's often clumsy transition to fighting the war on terrorism.

Why in the world would I want to be a part of a club that once included Alberto Gonzales and John Mitchell? I have enough conflict and drama in my life. I don't want to get caught in the blogging crossfire between the left and right. I don't want to have to beg skeptical young lawyers - good ones, not the ones hired by Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling - that they ought to work for the Department; that their careers will be aided, not ruined, by government work. I simply don't have the energy to restore the prestige and credibility of the Department that was so callously dismantled during the Gonzales reign.

I don't want to have to investigate whether it is legally appropriate or politically necessary to indict any former or current government officials for their role in torturing terror detainees. That's what Harper's correspondent Scott Horton is pushing in his trenchant magazine piece about what he calls the "outlaw" Bush Administration. He thinks that the incoming stewards of our nation have a legal, ethical-and even a moral-- obligation to prosecute the men and women who turned the CIA loose on the prisoners. What a zoo that would be-and I want no part of it.

And even if the Obama Administration decides it won't prosecute former government officials (and, trust me, it won't) there may be some sort of new "commission" to better investigate, under oath, what Bush officials knew, and when they knew it. That would certainly generate great additional unwanted stress to me, what with all the executive privilege claims and whatnot. And, speaking of executive privilege, as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States I would finally have to help resolve the shameful CIA Leak investigation brawl between the White House and the Congress. It's not going to be pretty any way you figure it.

If I took the job, and became the nation's chief law enforcement official, I wouldn't even know where to begin to halt the looming rise in crime likely to occur during these dire economic times. We just last year lowered violent crime rates in America for the first time since 2004 but I'm afraid that's going to be an aberration. Think of all those budget cuts in all those states combined with all those people out of work. And it's unlikely that my would-have-been patron at the White House, strapped as he is for cash anyway, will fill the Department's coffers; indeed, the next AG is going to have to work twice as hard with fewer resources to stem the tide.

And then, above all of that, there is all that overtime work I'd have to do in coming up with a new, hybrid justice system designed to prosecute the Guantanamo Bay terror detainees whom the new president may want to release from Cuba so it can shut down the prison there. The closing of Gitmo will generate more federal cases against detainees and also at the same time force the Justice Department to collaborate in whatever new system gets used to prosecute the worst of the terror suspects. For a Department struggling (and often failing) to get even the first of those tasks done right, that's a complicated battle order.

There are plenty of other people who are qualified to do the job. But now that I'm out of the running, I can candidly say that the next Attorney General had better not be a political novice or someone unused to the oozy ways of Washington. Even though the new administration is coming to power under the banner of change the President would do well to choose a relative insider to run the Department at this time in its history (never mind ours). For better and for worse, it will be dynamic time at Justice and that means it needs a dynamic, sharp leader. I would have been that guy, except I have a race to watch.
By Andrew Cohen
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