Outside editorial: Putting politics above the law

Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

President Bush on Monday stubbornly lamented the "unfair treatment" that forced the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

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"It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons," Bush said.

What important work does the president have in mind?

Was it the unwarranted firing of nine U.S. attorneys, some because they respected the law more than the political goals of the Bush administration?

Was it his support for waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques that constitute torture, and his repeated attempts to undercut the Geneva Convention?

Was it Gonzales' insistence, up until the beginning of this year, that the National Security Agency should be able to wiretap the communications of some U.S. citizens, despite the serious constitutional objections raised even in his own department?

Politics caused Gonzales' downfall, all right. His inability to insulate the Justice Department from the political agenda of the White House guaranteed that his tenure would end in failure.

Bush's attempt to turn the tables - accusing critics in Congress of creating a "harmful distraction" - only shows his own lack of respect for the separation of politics and justice.

Like another in Bush's Cabinet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gonzales outlasted his credibility. He should have resigned months ago.

Bush's defiant rebuke to Gonzales' critics - a group that includes some leading Republicans - raises doubts about his ability to select an attorney general who will restore professionalism and morale in the Justice Department.

The Senate can insist on it, however. Many of its members had serious qualms about confirming Gonzales, who had shown a disrespect for long-held principles of law as Bush's White House counsel. This time around, they should heed their instincts.

The U.S. attorney general's job comes with a great privilege - upholding the law of the land. Gonzales waived the privilege so that others could pursue political agendas. His successor must be above such a temptation.

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