Newsflash: Gonzales Delegated Authority

As CQ readers know, I think Alberto Gonzales has proven himself an incompetent Attorney General, and would do this administration a huge favor by resigning — especially after his disastrous testimony before Congress in April. His continued presence enables every new significant detail in the firings of eight US Attorneys to become a major media sensation. That said, I’m hard pressed to find the scandal in the latest revelation by the National Journal’s Murray Waas, who breathlessly informs us that Gonzales delegated hiring and firing decisions for non-civil service positions to his aides (via Memeorandum):

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides — who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys — extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department. A copy of the order and other Justice Department records related to the conception and implementation of the order were provided to National Journal.
In the order, Gonzales delegated to his then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and his White House liaison “the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration” of virtually all non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department, including all of the department’s political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Monica Goodling became White House liaison in April 2006, the month after Gonzales signed the order.
The existence of the order suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level. Department records show that the personnel authority was delegated to the two aides at about the same time they were working with the White House in planning the firings of a dozen U.S. attorneys, eight of whom were, in fact, later dismissed.

It’s important to note that the authority to hire and fire did not apply to careerists at Justice. The order specified that Sampson and Goodling only had that authority over non-civil service positions — essentially, the political appointees, which would include the USAs. Somehow, Waas wants to make a scandal that politically-connected senior staff members directly serving the AG could have hired and fired people in political positions, but that hardly rates as a scandal.
That authority already rests with the Attorney General. No one really believes that the AG makes all these decisions personally. Even without such an order, Cabinet officials delegate the nuts and bolts of those decisions to senior staff members. Even the President does this with his own appointees. Does anyone really believe that George Bush or Bill Clinton personally vetted each appointee or conducted his own personnel evaluations for all of his staff members?
The order as executed required Sampson and Goodling to get the approval of Gonzales for any terminations or hiring. That makes the order a non-issue, regardless of how many ways Waas can describe its “confidential” nature. Should Gonzales have mentioned this order during the Congressional hearings? Yes, and that’s perhaps the only valid criticism of the piece, but I’d challenge each of the Senators to swear under oath that they conduct all of the hiring and firing of non-civil service employees in their own offices before enabling their outrage.
Robert Litt confirms to Waas that the Clinton White House made most of the hiring decisions of non-civil service jobs at Justice during their term. He criticizes Gonzales for allowing two unqualified people to make those decisions in this case, but not the process itself, which is what Waas wants to make the issue. If Sampson and Goodling didn’t have the experience or the expertise for this responsibility, that speaks to competence, not to scandal, however.
I have no problem with criticism about Gonzales’ competence. Waas wants to make this into another accusation of near law-breaking, which is laughable.

9 thoughts on “Newsflash: Gonzales Delegated Authority”

  1. Attorney General Gonzales or any other witness before the Democrats in Congress could not have escaped the skewer. His testimoney before these ghouls does not convince me of anything except that “Rope-a-Dope” works.

  2. Waas does not come at this from a law-breaking angle, so I am not sure where you get your opinion as to what Waas “wants to make this”. Did he mention any criminal aspect of this? Is anything in the article inaccurate? No, and no.
    Waas wants to make a scandal that politically-connected senior staff members directly serving the AG could have hired and fired people in political positions, but that hardly rates as a scandal.
    I think the news item was that DOJ tried to fix it so those “senior” (in reality wet-behind-the-ears) officials, Goodling and Sampson, could clear out the political brush (so to speak) without Gonzales’ approval. That didn’t go over with OLC for constitutional reasons, so they did the next best thing – adhere to the letter of the law and skewer the intent behind it, by ensuring that Gonzales would be no more than an after-the-fact rubber-stamper. This would preserve his role as firewall to some degree – unless someone actually took the time to step back and look at this sham with a critical eye.
    Every time another piece of the puzzle comes out, we see more clearly that (a) USAs were being hired and fired by political hacks in the service of the White House, (b) that these decisions were based on politically charged prosecutorial decisions, and (c) that the WH knew its exposure all along and has used Gonzales as a political buffer who did nothing, saw nothing, knows nothing.
    Once you start seeing the forest for the trees, though, it is very transparent.

  3. The thing is that this goes, in my opinion, beyond even mere incompetence, but to the question of whether this administration takes the prosecution of federal criminal law seriously. Instead, it seems that they see the DoJ as just a political organ. This is inappropriate.
    And delegating these responsibilities to two young staffers with mediocre resumes is especially troubling.
    Whether criminality is involved or not, this is not how the DoJ should be run (something I think that we all focus too much on–Democrats are too busy looking for a crime and Republicans are too busy saying “nothing illegal here” to ask whether we want our government to work this way).
    Some thoughts here.

  4. Gonzales’ alledged incompetence is looking more and more like good old fashioned stonewalling when there are “secret” memos that should have been given to Congress being discovered. It certainly narrows the number of people who had a hand in making decisions about the hiring and firing DoJ personnel, as well as pointing out their boss, Karl Rove. Such ham-handed politicization of the DoJ is indeed unprecedented.

  5. once you lose all credibility it really does not matter anymore … all that is left now is to wait and see which GOP supporter sinks along with him by continuing to lock step with this lame duck whitehouse and how long it will take the GOP to return to the Reagan days after 8 years of this disaster.

  6. This is absurd. We have a show trial going on over a Potemkin issue and, because the AG is not deft enough to avoid the problem, we have conservatives serving the dems purpose by demanding his head.
    The dems do not deserve a scalp here. Gonzales is not very capable but he has done nothing wrong. When we cringe in fear over democrat spun media attacks, we only make the enemy bolder.
    Who next, Rove?

  7. Nothing wrong except lie to congress … but I guess some may think thats ok, afterall it’s only congress … obviously conservatives like you must believe that.

  8. I guess this is what Nixon called “letting people twist slowly in the wind?” And, he knew a few, too.
    As to Gonzales, when he went to Haaarvard, to speak at a 25th year reunion. He got heckled. By the “bright undergraduates” who had nothing else to do that day.
    I guess this also puts affirmative action hires up on the ropes, too?
    Well, Bush seems to like the people around him, being more uncomfortable wielding power. So when the tough decisions come along? They “delegate.” I believe Aschcroft did that, too. To Comey. And, the DC was not willing to “test the Constition” on the legality of “turning over the decision-making powers that come with your job.”
    That’s this Bush’s white house. And, it’s been producing problems. I’m sure, ahead, there will be a lot of stuff that emerges that fits this behavior pattern. INCLUDING WAYS TO AVOID NOMINATING BUSH’S TO JOBS WELL ABOVE THEIR ABILITIES!
    Heck, Slate, yesterday (through a link I found at InstaPundit), did a “drive by” on Tenet. They pointed to Woodward’s 2002 book. And, how Woodward used the “description” of his undercover fountain of knowledge. He called him a fat greek boy.
    I guess? Tenet knew how to advance by kissing ass. Both asses above him; and asses below.
    Asses as far as the eye could see.
    And, you’re wondering why Bush’s popularity plummets? Why he’s not helping others, now, gain a posture with the American People?
    Well? The donks have to deal with Fat Albert Gore and Jimmy Carter. And, Teddy’s liver. So their nomination stage isn’t exactly “star studded.”
    But why did the GOP throw away its advantages?
    Per DeLay? Too much infighting. And, no one standing up to protect anyone else’s back. Given that Hastert could have protected DeLay’s. But chose NOT. Then, what do you make of Hastert’s fall from grace? Where he was an over-stuffed piggy on pork.
    Anybody listening? If you want to see the GOP constantly in the minority; then what you’re seeing WORKS.
    If you want to advance TWO PERCENT, however, you need to recover. And, change your ways. Weed’s not the problem! It’s the blue-noses. And, the goody-two-shoe dancers, who are clueless among the real cheek kissers. Even as FOG blowers you’re stuck on a very small stage.

  9. Goodling and Sampson had no business being in charge of the hiring and firing of the civil servants. Sounds like Gonzalez tried to “hide” this little fact from Congress. Uncle Pat (Leahy) might have to take Al to the woodshed next week when he comes before the Judiciary Committee. Can’t wait till Monica has to testify.

Comments are closed.