At the White House Correspondents' Dinner the
other night, Karl Rove was called
up on stage and asked to identify himself. "Peter Fitzgerald," he promptly
said. Then, he corrected himself, "Patrick Fitzgerald." (That is, Special Counsel
Patrick Fitzgerald, who had just convicted Vice President Cheney's former right-hand
man, I. Lewis Libby.)
The Rove act then continued this way:
Comedian Brad Sherwood: "We just want to ask you some questions about,
Rove, tauntingly: "Lot's of people want to ask me questions."
Well, hand Karl the evening's prize for chutzpah. Nonetheless, one of these
days, no matter how the president, vice president, their top aides, officials,
and advisers circle the wagons, no matter how aggressively they attack,
no matter how many fallback explanations they have ready, no matter how many
dumps they make, they may be surprised to find themselves answering some
of the questions that Americans increasingly do want asked.
Sooner or later, ours may look like a United
States v. George W. Bush et al. world. (To some extent, it already
does.) As it happens, that's the prescient title of a remarkable, best-selling
book by Elizabeth de la Vega. A former federal prosecutor, de la Vega drew up
her own hypothetical
indictment laying out how the Bush administration defrauded us into war;
convened her own "grand
jury"; and, in a little paperback published late last year, made her worse-then-Enron
case. It will be a defining document of our times and one that should be
in every house in the land.
Meanwhile, de la Vega turns to the question of just what it means to be in
a land of "loyal Bushies." Tom
Doin' the Karl Rove Dance
A chorus line of "loyal Bushies"
by Elizabeth de la Vega
Last week, Americans with access to YouTube were
subjected to a once-in-a-lifetime performance by President Bush's senior political
adviser, Karl Rove. At least, I fervently hope that this event will only happen
once in our lifetimes. Watching Rove, at the White
House Correspondents' Dinner, bobbing and weaving awkwardly in a pathetic
parody of a rapper was painful. However, more excruciating than his routine
"MC Rove: Doin' the Dance, the Karl Rove Dance" to lyrics supplied by comedian
Brad Sherwood was the sight of the members of our so-called independent Washington
press corps laughing amiably at the antics of a senior presidential aide whose
conduct is so universally considered despicable that no one even flinches at
ill-timed lines like: "Don't get the jitters/but MC Rove tears the head off
of critters." That scene was the stuff of nightmares.
Rove's rap performance was disturbing, yes; but, in the end, it was also relatively
brief and harmless. The same cannot be said of the danse macabre he has
been directing since the Bush administration took over the White House. We know
that Rove is a master of the quickstep and the hustle, but he almost never makes
his moves in public. Instead, he has been directing the Bush production from
the Office of Political Affairs, whose purpose is, according to the White House
Web site, to ensure "that the executive branch and the president are aware of
the concerns of the American citizen."
Karl Rove has, for years, been choreographing an elaborate dance
of death for the federal government designed to give life to the Republican
Party, and yet the public remains largely ignorant of his activities because
he so rarely takes the stage. That honor is reserved for an apparently infinite
supply of young Republicans eager to dance their little hearts out for a chance
to get plum appointments. In other words, the prerequisite for the success
of the Bush administration's extravaganza whether in Washington, Iraq,
or elsewhere has been a chorus line of "loyal Bushies."
Of course, the term "loyal Bushie" requires no definition, but one has recently
been supplied by Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former deputy
chief of staff. Undoubtedly to his everlasting regret, Sampson, who resigned
just prior to his testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee,
used this term to describe
those U.S. attorneys who should be retained by the White House because they
had "managed well and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general."
Those who "chafed against administration initiatives" were recommended for removal,
according to Sampson; while the rest of the lot, including U.S. attorney for
the Northern District of Illinois and Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, were
I spent last Thursday watching Sampson testify
about the White House choreographed firings of seven U.S. attorneys who were
chafers. I was compelled to watch, even though, having worked for more
than 21 years as an assistant United States attorney myself, I considered the
revelation of this latest outrage to be the least horrific of a long string
of horrors carried out by the Bush administration in the name of the Department
of Justice for the advancement of the Republican Party.
To satisfy the tobacco lobby, for instance, President Bush's Department of
Justice (DoJ) appointees gutted the most
significant case ever brought against the giant tobacco companies. To assuage
the Republican base, Bush's DoJ brought an unprecedented
number of civil rights cases on behalf of non-minorities, while drastically
limiting its traditional affirmative-action lawsuits. In order to portray themselves
as representatives of the party most likely to make the American people feel
safe a cherished nugget of political wisdom from Karl Rove's constant polling
activities Bush's attorneys general have sanctioned, caused to be carried
out, and/or turned a blind eye to the use of illegal
spying on citizens, illegal detentions at
Guantanamo and elsewhere, kidnappings and "extraordinary
renditions" to countries the State Department has classified as the most
egregious of human rights violators and, worst of all, administration-sanctioned
acts of torture.
It is these activities that, to adopt the words of a fellow former assistant
United States attorney and lifelong Republican, "turn my stomach." Given that,
under the stewardship of John Ashcroft and then Alberto Gonzales, the Department
of Justice has consistently engaged in heinous criminal activity and blatant
civil-rights violations around the world, I was finding it difficult to be as
exorcised as some about the firing of the U.S. attorneys. Certainly, there is
abundant evidence that as many as seven U.S. attorneys were removed for no other
reason than to enable the administration to fill their positions with up-and-coming
Republicans or, worse, to interfere with or influence the investigation of one
or more cases for partisan political reasons a purpose that even Sampson acknowledged
would be improper. But that didn't get to me. Nor was I particularly incensed
by the fact that, as former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock, Ark.,
commented on CBS's
Face the Nation, the authority to make presidential appointments
may possibly have been "delegated down through Harriet Miers, Karl Rove, Judge
Gonzales, and all the way down to a bunch of 35-year-old-kids who who got
in a room together and tried to decide who was the most loyal to the president."
That story seemed to me to be less an accurate description of what happened
than a blame-it-on-the-kids alibi offered on behalf of Bush, Rove, Miers, and
Listening to Sampson, however, and reading the careless, often juvenile e-mails
he exchanged with fellow loyal Bushies 33-year-old Monica Goodling (Gonzales'
top aide, now on administrative leave because she pleaded the Fifth Amendment
to avoid testifying before Congress) and Scott Jennings (another thirty-something
aide to Karl Rove in the Office of Political Affairs), I felt my stomach beginning
to roil again. In the end, what really got me was the realization that none
of these Republican-politicians-in-training had any concept of public service.
Worse, they were entirely contemptuous of the very government they had been
entrusted to run.
I spent my entire career in federal service, starting with a stint
as a clerk for a federal judge. Modest and self-effacing as he was, just like
every other judge I've ever known, he had a fondness for dispensing homely
wisdom to his clerks. One of his favorites "When in doubt, do right"
always made me laugh. It was, for starters, ridiculously corny. I thought,
what a no-brainer except in those agonizing situations where competing
moral or ethical concerns caused uncertainty about what course of action to
follow. If you knew what was right, of course you would do it.
It never occurred to me that anyone would behave otherwise, but then again,
I was young and I hadn't been around Karl Rove. On the other hand, the judge,
a Republican, had been around his share of rogues. Indeed, he had survived an
administration that was remarkably similar to the one we have today. Years before
I clerked for him, he had been appointed United States attorney by President
Richard Nixon. As his first official act, the judge had selected a trusted colleague
to be his first assistant and they both went about their business.
One day not long afterwards, however, the judge returned from lunch to find
a member of Nixon's legal staff waiting for him: The man had traveled from Washington,
D.C., to tell him that he had to fire his first assistant because he was a Democrat.
What did the judge do? He told the lawyer to get out of his office politely,
I would imagine and not come back. That was the end of the matter.
As it happens, the judge's homely advice to his clerks is almost exactly the
title of the Department of Justice Ethics Rules
provided to every new employee. They inform the ethics training that DoJ employees
around the country receive once a year. The standards of conduct issued by Alberto
Gonzales' own shop are called "Do it Right," and here is the introductory paragraph:
"You may have heard it said that 'public service is a public trust.' This
means that each Federal employee has a responsibility to the United States Government
and its citizens to place loyalty to the Constitution, laws, and ethical principles
above private gain. The public deserves and should expect no less."
Tragically, the public has been receiving so much less from the entire Bush
administration. What would have happened to a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney who
engaged in the sort of brazen display of integrity I just described? We now
know exactly what. Main Justice, as the DoJ's Washington, D. C., office is called,
is well-staffed with "loyal Bushies" who will apparently carry out any tasks
assigned, regardless of how unethical, illegal, or immoral they may be. The
president is now trying to staff the U.S. attorney's offices throughout the
country with the same feckless loyalists. If he is allowed to proceed unimpeded,
those offices too will be run by United States attorneys "Doin' the Karl Rove
Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years
of experience. During her tenure, she was a member of the Organized Crime Strike
Force and Chief of the San Jose Branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the
Northern District of California. Her pieces have appeared in the Nation
magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon. She writes regularly for
TomDispatch.com. She is the author of United
States v. George W. Bush et al., which has been optioned for a movie
scheduled to begin production in the summer of 2007. She may be contacted at
Copyright 2007 Elizabeth de la Vega