It Keeps Getting Worse At Justice

Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and
Another week means another round of troubles for the beleaguered Justice Department and its barely-hanging-on chief, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. First came word on Good Friday of the resignation of Monica Goodling, the high-ranking Justice official who helped choreograph the dismissal last year of eight U.S. Attorneys. She is thus no longer under the control of the government and now, theoretically anyway, is free to cut her own deal with Congress if she decides to cooperate with the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the federal prosecutors. Don't bet on that. But it's more likely today than one week ago.

Next came wordover the weekend of the extraordinary influence at the Justice Department of graduates of a law school called Regent University School of Law, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. Even if you put the religious angle aside, even if you are comfortable with the idea of federal lawyers having such close ties to religious ideology, it is not exactly a high-water mark for the Department that it is recruiting candidates from a school ranked in the "fourth-tier" of law schools around the country—136th to be exact. Gone, apparently, are the days when the Department sought after and obtained the best and brightest legal minds.

This morning we learnedcourtesy of the Washington Post that judges and other members of the legal community are becoming increasingly concerned with the Department's practice of forcing its U.S. Attorneys to pull double-duty—to try to serve their constituents back home while working in Washington in official capacities at Justice and in other places. This is significant because one of the fired federal prosecutors, David Iglesias, was criticized by Justice Department officials for being "an absentee landlord" in New Mexico as a justification for his dismissal. Iglesias wasn't at his post because he was serving in the Navy reserve. If you are a U.S. Attorney, then, it is okay to serve your bosses in Washington but not okay to serve in the military. One gets you promoted. The other gets you canned.

Then, earlier today, as if to prove the point, the Justice Department announced that yet another U.S. Attorney would be coming to Washington to work for the Attorney General, this time as his new chief of staff. Kevin O'Connor, U.S. Attorney for the district of Connecticut, now will be moonlighting at the Justice Department and, if past is prologue, his colleagues in Connecticut will be hard pressed to make up for his absence as they go about performing their traditional duties on behalf of the citizens of that state. In fact, U.S. Attorneys' offices all over the country are feeling that sort of pinch these days.

And then, finally, another blow. Not satisfied with the documents yet delivered, and unwilling to wait any longer while the staffers try to hash out a deal, the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon served upon the Attorney General a subpoena for the Justice Department to produce more documents by next Monday, the eve of Gonzales' appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The subpoena sets up both a legal and a political showdown. The legal showdown might generate an executive privilege fight in federal court. The political showdown will come if and when the Department fails to adequately respond to the subpoena and the Attorney General has to answer for that failure next Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Either way, the subpoena does not bode well for Gonzales or his colleagues.

And you think you were having a bad week.