From the moment he entered the White House, President Obama's attitude towards the crime, corruption and politicization of the Bush Justice Department has been to "look forward and not backwards." As we've seen for the third time in just the last several days, that's working out just fine for the Bush lawyers.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Nora Dannehy announced she would bring no charges against Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, Monica Goodling or any of the key players behind the purge of 9 U.S. attorneys. That scandal, part of a larger effort to target Democratic politicians and suppress Democratic voter turnout, will go unpunished despite the key roles of Rove and Miers, and the apparent perjury of former Attorney General Gonzales. As Dannehy, selected by Gonzales' successor Michael Mukasey, summed it up:
"Evidence did not demonstrate that any prosecutable criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of David Iglesias," the Justice Department said in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday. "The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias."
Prosecutors also said there was insufficient evidence to charge someone with lying to Congress or investigators...
Dannehy faulted the Justice Department for firing Iglesias without even bothering to figure out whether such complaints were true. That indicated "an undue sensitivity to politics on the part of DOJ officials who should answer not to partisan politics but to principles of fairness and justice," the Justice Department wrote in its letter.
But that was not a crime, and was not an effort to influence prosecutions, the letter said.
That slap on the wrist for the Bush legal team followed another this week. Scott Bloch, the disgraced Bush DOJ lawyer convicted for withholding information from Congress about files that he ordered be erased from office computers, will likely be given probation. While ethics advocates like Debra Katz of the Government Accountability Project argued probation for Bloch "understates the true scope and impact" of his crimes and "would represent a miscarriage of justice," Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Leon apparently had no issue with it:
While the charge carries a sentence of up to six months in prison, prosecutors did not object to Bloch's request for probation, noting that he has no criminal history and faces a likely sanction on his ability to practice law. Bloch works at the Tarone & McLaughlin firm in Washington.
While Scott Bloch for now is still practicing law, Bush torture team architect Jay Bybee sits as a judge on a federal court. Among other things, Bybee, as you'll recall, affixed his name to the August 2002 memo largely authored by Office Legal Counsel rubber stamp John Yoo, a document which proclaimed that torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Now in closed-door testimony to a House Committee, Bybee revealed that CIA interrogators may have exceeded even his almost-anything-goes guidelines:
Jay S. Bybee, who headed the department's Office of Legal Counsel, told investigators in May that he never approved some interrogation techniques that detainees say were used against them, including punching, kicking and dousings with cold water. Techniques his office did approve, such as waterboarding, or simulated drowning of terrorism suspects, were used excessively, Bybee said.
As you'll also recall, in February Judge Bybee along with John Yoo narrowly avoided disbarment and other recommended sanctions for creating the Bush administration's framework for detainee torture. As we learned this week, Bybee's only regret was his own victimization:
"I have regrets because of the notoriety that this has brought me," he said. "It has imposed enormous pressures on me both professionally and personally. It has had an impact on my family. And I regret that, as a result of my government service, that that kind of attention has been visited on me and on my family."
As for Alberto Gonzales, his lawyer George Terwilliger said his critics "owe him an apology." Gonzales, whose comical selective amnesia under Congressional questioning included the classic, "Senator, that I don't recall remembering," like Bybee has only one regret. As he acknowledged to Esquire in December, Gonzales' real lament about the U.S. attorney firings is that the Bush White House wasn't political enough. After the Republican losses in the 2006 midterm elections, Gonzales suggested, the Bush administration's error was that it simply couldn't get away it:
"We should have abandoned the idea of removing the U. S. attorneys once the Democrats took the Senate. Because at that point we could really not count on Republicans to cut off investigations or help us at all with investigations. We didn't see that at the Department of Justice. Nor did the White House see that. Karl didn't see it. If we could do something over again, that would be it."
Now, of course, it appears Alberto Gonzales did get away with it. Nevertheless, as he declared in December 2008, "I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)