Now there's a title large enough to drive a truck through: "Office of Professional Responsibilty."
You may have heard the rather stunning announcement yesterday when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. and admitted, under intense questioning from Senator Specter, that it was President Bush himself who blocked security clearances for Justice Department attorneys, associates of the Office of Professional Responsibility, to keep them from investigating possible executive branch improprieties with respect to the National Security Agency's surveillance program. (WaPo)
Essentially, by denying security clearances to these Justice Department lawyers, the president personally, and deliberately, derailed an official inqury into its own misconduct, or as a commentator in the New York Sun states: "The government has in effect curtailed an investigation of itself." (WaPo) So, what Mr. Gonzales conceded is nothing less than the fact that this president effectively launched a preemptive strike against the intelligence apparatus he himself put in place in the wake of 9/11. This is not merely a flagrant attempt to manipulate reasons for going to war, as evidenced by the Downing Street Memo, but a decidedly absurd effort at at-will deconstruction. As we have seen, this executive branch classifies, and declassifies documents, and information, opportunistically, and it's now apparent that this is an executive that creates, and destroys, branches of government, as well as judicial oversight for no other reason than political expediency.
Admittedly, there are many, including myself, who have done Mr. Bush a grievous injustice when we surmised that Mr. Cheney was at the wheel while the president was in the passenger seat for the past six years. Mr. Bush has used "signing statements" a record 850 times during his tenure (WaPo) which shows, if nothing else, that Air Force One isn't the only perk, or escape door, for the chief executive of what was once believed to be the greatest country on earth, the ability to tweak the Constitution, with impunity, has its advantages, too.
Of course, the larger question is who needs a law degree when working with this White House? At best, legal training is vestigial, if not downright obstructive to one's professional advancement. When we find ourselves with a president who is not only proactive vis a vis his use of military force, but creative when it comes to how best to deal with laws that are disadvantageous to executive privilege, the degree of cynicism this administration engenders with regard to checks and balances is awe-inspiring. Moreover, the damage to the democratic process done by Bush, Cheney, and Co. may well outlive the cockroach.
Yet, there are many, including myself, who thought that when push comes to shove, Mr. Gonzales' respect for truth and justice would prevail over his fealty to his president. Evidently, we were dead wrong. If not breaking the law, this president is surely skirting it, and when considering how the attorney-general responds to presidential hubris, one can only ask "where's the beef?"
Who can we expect to challenge, investigate, and ensure that illegal acts do not slip through the cracks if not the attorney-general? Further, what do we call a government in which keepers of the public trust grant immunity, to an executive branch, from an egregious attempt to obstruct justice by precluding judicial review of a spurious surveillance program? Where are the officers, and the professional responsibility, in this Office of Professional Responsibility? Simply by virtue of having been appointed by the Supreme Court, does that exempt a president from judicial review, and official charges of misconduct, and must we say, throw away your law degree, Mr. G, we're in whole new territory now.