MU law professor says he hopes next attorney general is more candid

Monday, August 27, 2007 | 8:40 p.m. CDT; updated 2:43 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

COLUMBIA — In May, MU law professor Frank Bowman wrote opinion pieces that appeared in the New York Times and Slate, an online magazine, arguing that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should be impeached for “lying to Congress” about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

News of Gonzales’ resignation came Monday morning, and the Missourian’s Lucinda Housley sat down with Bowman to discuss his thoughts on Gonzales’ resignation and what this means for the future attorney general. Here are excerpts:

Q: In May, you argued for Gonzales’ impeachment, citing both constitutional provisions regarding impeachment and his role in the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in particular. Can you explain your reasoning?

A. First, it was useful to remind people that it is possible for the Congress to impeach “all civil officers of the United States,” as granted by the Constitution. This has only happened once, and it was in the Grant administration. Now, on a more substantive note, there were several reasons why Gonzales’ behavior had been called into question. He had testified before the Senate on the issue of the U.S. attorney firings, and it was obvious his answers were less than candid. The Iglesias firing in particular demonstrates the lengths to which the administration went to accomplish its political goals.

Q: Were you surprised to hear that he resigned this morning?

A: Yes, I was. I figured he would hold out for the remainder of the term.

Q: What do you think Gonzales’ legacy will be?

A: That he was arguably the worst attorney general in American history, that he had less of a sense of the dignity of the office, the responsibilities of the position ... than those who came before him. And I say that even with the fact that (Richard Nixon’s Attorney General) John Mitchell was convicted and imprisoned for his actions. Gonzales was essentially a Bush family courtier.

Q: What would you like to see from Gonzales’ successor?

A. That depends who you are. If you’re the Bush White House, the new attorney general will continue in the path of Gonzales and try to stonewall Congressional investigations. All the rest of the people, we should want a replacement who stands for doing justice, wherever it leads you. Someone who understands the independent role of the judiciary, what Gonzales never understood.

Q; What about speculation that Bush will nominate Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff to replace Gonzales?

A: First, I think the Bush administration will have some trouble finding someone who is willing to finish out the term and who is also acceptable to Congress. The kinds of assurances Senator (Patrick) Leahy (chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee) is going to want from a potential attorney general are not going to be the ones the White House wants to give.

Now, if (Michael) Chertoff’s name is being thrown out there, he is not a bad nominee. There are some advantages to him; he is a professional, a career prosecutor, former judge. He is a guy who understands the nature of the department and has a respect for the independence of the (Department of Justice). He is likely to have a greater appreciation for rule of law than Gonzales. Now I understand the acting attorney general will be (Solicitor General) Paul Clement. He is a very smart guy; I don’t know him personally, but I know he has been a wonderful Supreme Court advocate. I don’t think there is any obvious political knock with Clement.

Q. Are there any long-term consequences of Gonzales’ tenure as attorney general?

A. The Department of Justice’s reputation for impartiality has been greatly damaged, mainly because of what has happened under Gonzales, but (former Attorney General John) Ashcroft’s administration also, to a lesser degree. These guys have managed to imperil all the independence and reputation for integrity the department has built up. You gain a reputation for integrity over a period of decades, but you can lose it very fast. And honestly, it will take a while to build that back up again.

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