Saturday, July 28, 2007

Justice Dept. Lawyers Join Chorus Criticizing Gonzales


WASHINGTON, July 27 — Daniel J. Metcalfe, a lawyer who began his government career in the Nixon administration and retired from the Justice Department last winter, said morale at the department was worse under Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales than during Watergate.

John S. Koppel, who continues to work at the department as a civil appellate lawyer in Washington, wrote this month that he was “ashamed” of the department and that if Mr. Gonzales told the truth in recent Congressional testimony, “he has been derelict in the performance of his duties and is not up to the job.”

Even though they worry that it may hinder their career prospects, a few current and former Justice Department lawyers have begun to add to the chorus of Mr. Gonzales’s critics who say that the furor over his performance as attorney general, and questions about his truthfulness under oath, could do lasting damage to the department’s work. ...

Mr. Metcalfe, the retired lawyer who was the founding director of the department’s Office of Information and Privacy, said in an interview that the questions over Mr. Gonzales’s competence and credibility had shattered morale at the department, especially after the attorney general’s testimony this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“When you have an attorney general with his personal integrity and credibility so repeatedly reduced to shreds, not to mention in so public a forum, that’s just antithetical to the very nature of the Justice Department and its role in upholding the rule of law,” Mr. Metcalfe said. “This is the Department of Justice and the attorney general, where absolute integrity is Job 1.”

In an opinion article that was first published this month in The Denver Post and has since been circulated in the department, Mr. Koppel, the civil appellate lawyer, said that under the Bush administration the department had been “thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriate, unethical and indeed unlawful.”

Mr. Koppel, who has been with the department since 1981, wrote that his decision to issue such a public criticism of Mr. Gonzales and the department “subjects me to a substantial risk of unlawful reprisal from extremely ruthless people who have repeatedly taken such action in the past.”

“But I am confident,” Mr. Koppel continued, “that I am speaking on behalf of countless thousands of honorable public servants, at Justice and elsewhere.”

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