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Still Time For A Fall Guy

This post was written by CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
It's hard to know what's more disheartening. The fact that the Bush Administration allowed a mean-spirited political hack named Bradley Schlozman to linger for as long as he did as acting head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division despite his foul views and practices. Or the fact that the Bush Administration last week declared that it would not prosecute the man for allegedly making false statements to Congress when he testified there in 2007.

Either way you look at it, the scathing report released today by the Office of Inspector General represents a fitting close to an era at the Justice Department marked not just by bad actors in government but by a cynical management philosophy that torched and then tainted all those touched by it. There was simply too large a gulf between the intelligence and integrity of people like Schlozman, Kyle Sampson, and Monica Goodling and the power they were given by their political bosses and operatives in the White House. These inapt and inept officials were destined to ruin things and they did.

And now it is left to the Obama Administration to determine what ought to be done with these wretched ministers. Just because the current administration, now down to its final hours in office, inexplicably chose last week not to prosecute Schlozman for alleged perjury doesn't mean that the new administration can't or shouldn't pursue such a case. Indeed, I believe that Eric Holder, the incoming Attorney General, could send a very clear message to his subordinates (and the rest of us) by forcing Schlozman to defend in a criminal court his words and his deeds.

I would like Schlozman to describe to a jury in Washington, for example, why he thought it was appropriate to say that he liked his coffee "Mary Frances Berry style… black and bitter." Berry, the former Chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, is a black woman. I would like him to tell his peers in the jury box and the press gallery why he thought it was okay in the 21st Century for a public servant to call his political adversaries "pinkos" and "commies" and "libs." When do the real victims of the trashing of the Justice Department—you and me and the rule of law—get our day in court against these sorts of partisan saboteurs?

Although reasonable people might disagree, I can understand the case for not prosecuting Dick Cheney or David Addington or John Yoo or Alberto Gonzales for their roles in devising and authorizing our infamous torture policies. But the Schlozman case, at this stage, is really quite simple; it is about perjury before the Congress. The fellow was caught two years ago, given an opportunity to come clean, and the OIG now says he explained his role untruthfully to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Case closed.

A scandal of this magnitude merits a fall guy and I can't think of a better candidate than Schlozman, a man so gung-ho to be "right-thinking American" that he lost sight of law and justice and sense and honor.

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