The Right-Wing Understanding of Government

Brad Blakeman is a former Deputy Assistant to President Bush and is currently the CEO of Freedom's Watch, the group formed last year at the American Enterprise Institute by some of the nation's largest GOP donors (and Ari Fleisher), devoted to advocating the neoconservative agenda. On Wednesday night, Blakeman was on the Dan Abrams Show discussing the White House's refusal to turn over to Congress FBI interviews with Bush and Cheney in the Plame investigation, based on a brand new form of executive privilege invented by Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Here's how Blakeman justified Mukasey's obstructionist actions:

Look, what you have is a very smart attorney general who's trying to protect his client and that's the president of the United States, an executive privilege.

That is about as warped a view of how our Government is supposed to work as one can imagine. The core attribute of the Justice Department is independence, not allegiance to the President as "client." The President has his own lawyers in the White House Counsel's Office. The Attorney General is not and never was one of those lawyers. To the contrary, the Attorney General represents the people of the United States -- if he has any "client," that's who it is -- and is often required to take positions and actions adverse to the President. Few things could subvert -- and have subverted -- the American justice system more than thinking of the President as being the "client" of the Attorney General.

This all used to be so basic. But the belief that the DOJ exists to advance the interests and wishes of the President has become a central premise of how our Government now works. The Justice Department has been transformed into but another cog in the instruments of Government that protect and serve the President. And that transformation isn't unique to Alberto Gonzales (who, during a CNN interview while Attorney General, actually referred to Bush as "my client"), as The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin pointed out yesterday:

Michael Mukasey has President Bush's back.

Mukasey succeeded toady Alberto Gonzales as attorney general last fall. But the notion that he would restore independence to that post took a big hit yesterday when he refused to turn over to a House committee key documents related to the CIA leak investigation.

Mukasey may have a better reputation than Gonzales, but it turns out he is just as willing to use his power to protect the White House from embarrassing revelations.

That's why a former White House official and top right-wing activist like Blakeman can go on television and simply proclaim (without anyone contradicting him) that the President is the Attorney General's "client" and that whatever the Attorney General does to protect the President is accordingly justified in the same way that a standard lawyer's duty is to protect "his client's" interests. Obviously, Blakeman's understanding of the most basic aspects of how our Government works is painfully ignorant, but -- thanks not only to the Bush administration but also to one of the most derelict Congresses in history -- that view also now accurately reflects the reality of how the Government actually functions.

UPDATE: As Jim White notes in comments, former White House official Sara Taylor actually went before the Senate and testified that she understood that she took an oath when she went to the White House that was "an oath to the President":

It's easy to mock Blakeman's warped understanding of how our Government works, but it isn't principally the by-product of ignorance but, instead, a reflection of how our Government actually now functions.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.


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