The columnist who cried “hypocrisy”

E.J. Dionne issues another hypocrisy alert. This time, he notes that Republicans, including Tony Snow, criticized President Clinton for hiding behind executive privilege back in 1998. As I’ve written, the proper balancing of executive privilege claims and claims by Congress that it needs information depends on the facts of a given case. In the world we live in, partisanship also tends to play a part in where one strikes the balance.
That said, I’ll take Dionne’s outrage over alleged Republican hypocrisy when he points to the column he wrote denouncing Clinton’s reliance on executive privilege. And I’ll take Dionne’s outrage about the insertion of “politics into justice” when he points to the column he wrote criticizing, as even the New York Times did, the replacement by Clinton of Jay Stephens, the U.S. attorney who was investigating Rep. Rostenkowski. Or the column Dionne wrote criticizing the appointment by Clinton of his former law student Paula Casey as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, an appointment that essentially guaranteed that the Clintons and their cronies would not be investigated by that office, and helped lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Clinton’s misdeeds would not, of course, excuse wrongdoing by the Bush administration. But even with the flood of emails released this week, Dionne does not argue that the firing of any of the eight U.S. attorneys interfered with justice. Instead, he changes the subject and airs complaints by a “watchdog” group about high turnover among prosecutors investigating the Abramoff matter, as if Bush and Gonzales are responsible for the turnover of government lawyers.
Dionne also complains that political appointees overruled career lawyers on whether to pursue certain voting rights cases. But the voting rights act is a complex piece of legislation that gives rise to conflicing interpretations about what constitutes a violation and what constitutes proof of such. As with other civil rights statutes, disputes arise, for example, over whether (or to what extent) specific outcomes such as a lack of minority representation demonstrate a violation of a statute that does not specifically mandate particular racial outcomes. When such disputes arise, the top officials, who in our system are political appointees, get to make the call. The career people, if they are liberals, get to have E.J. Dionne air their complaints.
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