It’s not easy being John Conyers.
He is, famously, the most hardcore of left-wing partisans, a hero to the Democrat party’s fifth-column, antiwar base. The House Judiciary Committee chairman’s days are chockablock with corruption quests; the ACLU, CAIR — so many interest groups need water carrying. If it’s not the Bush White House, it’s the FBI; if it’s not the NSA, it’s the Justice Department. Interrogation, surveillance, the Patriot Act — you name it, he’s against it, and he’s investigating it.
All this, and still he must find time to manage ethics investigations against … himself. In 2006, a Conyers aide reaffirmed longstanding complaints that this pillar of rectitude induced staffers to babysit his children, perform various household chores, and work on state and local Michigan political campaigns — all on the public dime.
And then, when the poor man finally gets home after a long day in the witch-hunt fields, he’s got to hear all about it from his wife.
Monica Conyers is president pro tempore of the city council in Conyers’s home base, Detroit — that model Democrat city where Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick seems to get busted every ten minutes or so. Mrs. Conyers also hasn’t been feeling well. She just returned to work from what was described as outpatient surgery — a five-week convalescence that, coincidentally, began just when it was revealed that the FBI was investigating her for public corruption.
A month ago the Detroit News reported that Mrs. Conyers is suspected of taking bribes. Seems she bitterly opposed a $47 million sludge-removal contract right up until the moment she voted the other way, resulting in the City’s approval by a 5-4 margin. People familiar with the investigation claim the FBI has tape recordings connecting her to pay-offs. At this point, however, she has not been charged.
And neither have Bush Justice Department officials who crudely politicized law-enforcement employment positions. That has Rep. Conyers in a typical lather.
DOJ’s inspector-general has concluded that top aides to former attorney general Alberto Gonzales probed the political beliefs of applicants seeking employment as prosecutors and summer interns. The findings come on the heels of that favorite Democrat hobby-horse: the firings of eight district United States attorneys.
U.S. attorneys, of course, are political appointees serving at the pleasure of the president, who can terminate them for any reason or no reason at all. That’s why, back in 1993, President Clinton fired all but one of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys in one fell swoop, with barely a titter from the media — or, you’ll be stunned to learn, from Conyers.
Now, let’s be clear. It was an unmitigated disgrace for Gonzales to allow the Department’s hiring practices to be abused.
That’s not to say law enforcement is not a political undertaking. It is, in the best (and increasingly lost) sense of that term. The police power is a political one. The constitution assigns it to a political branch — to the president, the elected official singularly accountable to all Americans.
Law-enforcement priorities are and should be major election issues. Barack Obama, for example, has a history of being exceedingly soft on crime — indeed, his ties to terrorists like Bill Ayers trace to their similar attitudes about the claimed un-wisdom of jailing violent offenders. John McCain, by contrast, is a law-and-order type — at least outside illegal immigration enforcement. This is an important political distinction. It ought to matter to voters.
Yet, the day-to-day enforcement of the federal law is not political. It is carried out by career attorneys and support staff. These professionals ought never be guided by political considerations. Being a prosecutor is about applying the laws on the books to the facts uncovered by investigators. It is apolitical work. It is work that people of divergent philosophical outlooks routinely do together throughout the country without a shred of difficulty.
But here’s the thing about assessing the Justice Department: An administration’s sense of where politics ends and even-handed law enforcement begins is a salient political issue. Absent solid proof that political considerations were permitted to obstruct justice in a particular case — to fabricate a case that wasn’t there or shrink from one that was — it is not a criminal matter.
As a political issue, the Gonzales tenure at Justice has been a bonanza for Democrats. It may be the difference that wins them the White House. Gonzales resigned in ignominy. Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales staffers who crassly introduced politics into hiring decisions and contributed mightily to the firing fiasco, are also long gone.
President Bush has deservedly taken a huge hit. He backed a Texas loyalist long after it was painfully apparent that Gonzales was in over his head. The Justice Department embarrassments led seamlessly to scrutiny of other mediocrities littering the administration. This fed a general sense of incompetence and odd detachment. The president has dotted his government with many stars, too — officials of unusual skill. But to be blunt, it’s not a secret why his approval ratings are so low.
Still, they are much higher than Congress’s. On Capitol Hill, unlike Main Justice, people like Conyers, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. William Jefferson, Sen. Ted Stevens, and a host of other characters carry merrily along.
Last week, in announcing that the ousted Justice Department officials would not be charged, Attorney General Michael Mukasey sagely observed that “not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.” Civil-service rules and department regulations were violated, but not criminal statutes. Those involved have lost their jobs. The department earned a serious black eye, and while Mukasey has worked impressively to erase it, the political damage to the administration cannot be undone.
Evidently, that’s not enough for Conyers. But it ought to be. As my father used to say, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw wild parties.”
— Andrew C. McCarthy is NR’s legal-affairs editor and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.