Conservatives like to talk about personal responsibility, but Attorney General Michael Mukasey does not seem to think it applies to the Bush administration. In a speech on Tuesday, he described the shameful politicization of the Justice Department as a "painful" episode in which "the system failed."
Mr. Mukasey made no mention of the role played by his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, and other members of President Bush's inner circle. There is by now strong reason to believe that they were involved in plans to fire United States attorneys for political reasons, fill other important positions on the basis of partisanship rather than competence and order prosecutions designed to help Republicans win elections.
The department has never properly pursued the bad actors. It has shown no real concern for the victims. Mr. Mukasey's cynical remarks shrugging off the whole scandal should prod Congress to pursue it even more vigorously.
The Justice Department's inspector general and its ethics office have issued a pair of reports confirming that top aides to Mr. Gonzales improperly used political litmus tests to fill nonpolitical positions. The politics was remarkably crude. One example: a career terrorism prosecutor was turned down for a counterterrorism position because his wife was an active Democrat.
Mr. Mukasey told the American Bar Association that he did not see any crimes to prosecute. "Not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime," he said. In any case, the wrongdoers have been punished, he claimed, by "substantial negative publicity."
The inspector general's analysis of hiring practices lends credibility to even more disturbing claims that politically chosen prosecutors pursued politically motivated prosecutions.
Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, has long insisted that he was prosecuted on vague corruption charges - for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison - because he was one of his state's leading Democrats.
Mr. Mukasey should have said that based on the recent reports he is going to personally and vigorously pursue allegations of politicization in the department, no matter where they lead. He should have talked about the exhaustive efforts he is making to get to the bottom of Mr. Siegelman's allegations.
He should also have vowed that he would do everything in his power to see that President Bush's chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, his former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, and former top political adviser, Karl Rove, all comply with Congressional subpoenas to testify in public and under oath.
As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Mr. Mukasey should demand that they tell what they know - particularly about the firing of the United States attorneys - and deliver relevant documents. Instead, he has supported their baseless claims of executive privilege.
We opposed Mr. Mukasey's confirmation because we feared that he would worry more about defending the Bush administration than enforcing the law. His speech to the bar association is further evidence that, like his predecessor, he cares more about politics than justice.
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