Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Ahhhh, the perks

A very interesting little aside in the New Yorker Article on DOJ's approach to voter rights ("Poll Position: Is the Justice Department Poised To Stop Voter Fraud - Or To Keep Voters From Voting?" by Jeffrey Toobin, September 20 issue). According to Toobin, Ashcroft has exerted high-level control over hiring for the Attorney General Honors program, much to the dismay of the career attorneys at DOJ. The article speculates this could have an effect on the Voter Rights division, but it could just as clearly politicize the Department as a whole.

That prompts two thoughts. In the roundtable panel held here at Duke on September 17 on "Interrogation, Detention and the Commander in Chief Power," several of the attorneys who had worked in DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel cited OLC as the best source for legal advice in the administration precisely because it was staffed with attorneys who would give non-partisan advice and who had access to and respect for the long experience of the career staff at DOJ. Although none of the attorneys present specifically said why they thought OLC had manged to produce such a disgraceful product as the infamous torture memo, the possibility that Ashcroft and his political-level staff have turned their back on the model of disinterested advice represented by past OLC actions - and reaped the rewards of such a short-sighted move - would certainly be consistent with the idea that they are also seeking to politicize overall DOJ hiring.

The other thought is prompted by the explanation from one Ashcroft appointee to Toobin as to why the hiring change was no big deal. '[Ashcroft Spokesman Mark] Corallo dismisses complaints about the changes as coming from malcontents. "A bunch of mid-level people here had their boondoggle taken away from them, going on these recruiting trips for weeks at a time, wining and dining at great hotels on the government's dime," he said.'

This echoes an explanation that Under Secretary of State John Bolton once gave for why he disdained previous arm control efforts, saying they were undertaken by bureaucrats who "camped out in the finest hotels in Geneva for months at a time." What is the deal here? Do Bush loyalists find all government travel illegitimate? It's certainly less lavish than private-firm attorney travel, and hardly luxurious. Why does it bug them so? Is it some kind of religious objection to cheap carpeting and synthetic bedspreads? Are they worried that GS-14s are watching dirty movies on the taxpayer's dime? Does a night in a Holiday Inn and dinner at Chili's really constitute 'wining and dining at great hotels'? Can someone explain this to me?

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