NEW YORK – A panel of Democratic Party legal heavyweights speculated Jamie Gorelick, former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, could be appointed attorney general if Barack Obama were elected president.
In a panel chaired by Elena Kagan, dean and professor of law at Harvard Law School, Gorelick charged on the opening plenary panel of the American Constitution’s Society two-day meeting in Washington that the Bush administration had politicized the operation of the Justice Department.
Gorelick said that if she were appointed attorney general in an Obama administration, her first job would be to “fix” the Department of Justice.
“The Justice Department only functions well if the career lawyers have a voice and are actively consulted,” Gorelick told the 700 attendees. “In the old order, if the White House wanted to know if something was lawful, it would call the Justice Department, and there would be a lot of discussion within the Justice Department at the attorney general’s office. The legal opinion would be the product of the Justice Department’s work.”
Later, Gorelick acknowledged the attorney general had to be close ideologically to the president in order to represent the administration’s legal positions both to the public and through the office of solicitor general.
Gorelick was appointed by then-Senate Democratic Party minority leader Tom Daschle to serve on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 commission.
As WND reported in 2004, her participation as commissioner became controversial when Attorney General John Aschroft pinned blame on her for issuing a 1995 memo that established a “wall” between the criminal and intelligence divisions, hindering the ability of the U.S. government to detect the Sept. 11 plot.
Ashcroft contended the document by Gorelick [pdf file] helped establish the “single greatest structural cause” for 9/11, which was “the wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”
The American Constitution Society is holding a two day national convention in Washington, D.C., that began yesterday titled, “Revitalizing Our Democracy: Progress and Possibilities.”
The ACS describes itself as “one of the nation’s leading progressive legal organizations,” which positions it on the political left.
In the conference brochure, the ACS notes the group is organized to counter the influence of the “activist conservative leading movement,” countering this conservative “new orthodoxy, which threatens to dominate our courts and law,” thereby inflicting “a grave injustice to the American vision.”
Several other panelists at the event yesterday openly expressed their partisan hope for Obama’s election to the presidency.
Greg Craig, former special legal counsel to President Clinton and head of Clinton’s legal defense against impeachment, also used the panel as an opportunity to attack the Bush administration’s management of the Justice Department.
Introduced as one of Obama’s top legal advisers, Craig drew a contrast with Bush, arguing a President Obama “would actually enjoy the law,” a comment that drew laughter from an apparently pro-Democratic Party audience.
“A President Obama would be very inclusive, not just with people in the academic community who disagree with his position, but on the Hill,” Craig said. “As president, Barack Obama will be able to attract high qualified people who serve in the Justice Department for the right reasons. Under a President Obama, we will also see an enormous amount of legal talent attracted back to the White House – people who are ethical, experienced and pragmatic, not there just to pursue ideological questions.”
Another panelist, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, was also strongly critical of the Bush administration.
“The Bush administration has left the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in shambles because of the political manipulation within the department and from the White House,” said Henderson, who previously was the Washington bureau director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.
“As a result, we have diminished respect within the Civil Rights Division for career lawyers and for the rule of law,” he said.
John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, spoke after Henderson on the panel.
“Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales we saw the politicization of hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys,” Podesta said. “Even with the kinds of cases selected for pursuit under Gonzales, we saw a partisan tilt in what got allocations of resources. I hope Barack Obama is elected president, and I believe [a President Obama] will make a commitment to selecting an attorney general who gives impartial, straight advice and will make a pledge that partisan politics will not play a role.”
Podesta also claimed that as Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby “pushed people around in the Justice Department.”
Henderson received enthusiastic audience reaction when he began discussing “the day Obama gives his acceptance speech.”
Henderson playfully corrected himself, clarifying he was discussing Obama’s acceptance speech at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver, not an inaugural speech after being elected president.
“Barack Obama will give his acceptance speech in Denver 45 years to the day after Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963,” he pointed out. “This is a watershed election – the first time we have an African-American nominee for president, and on the Republican side we have a Vietnam War hero who had the courage to stand up to his own party and support immigration rights.”