Run those musical chairs by me again, please

Today’s lead story in the Washington Post is a puff-piece for Attorney General Eric Holder. The Post informs us that Holder is “revamping” the Justice Department through a series of key personnel moves in which experience is trumping political ties.

Reporter Carrie Johnson claims that Holder is thereby making good on his promise to Congress to remove the taint of politics from the Department and to ensure that there is no political interference in prosecutions, as allegedly there was during the Bush administration (Johnson refers several times to the prosecution of Ted Stevens, but Stevens is a Republican). Holder himself chimes in, stating that his selection of career prosecutors with decades of experience, rather than political connections, is meant to underscore the importance of ethics and professionalism in the department.

But let’s look at the personnel moves the Post cites. The featured move is the selection of Mary Patrice Brown, “a well-respected career prosecutor,” to head up the Office of Professional Responsibility, which polices misconduct by department lawyers. Brown receives rave reviews from Johnson’s sources and, indeed, sounds like a fine choice. This is all the more true considering that she must be replacing a hack selected by the Bush administration based on political connections.

Well, not exactly. Brown is actually replacing H. Marshall Jarrett who, according to the Post, is also a career prosecutor. Jarrett has headed the office since the latter years of the Clinton administration. It’s true that he has “connections,” but they are to Holder with whom the Post says he once “worked closely.”

Nor is Jarrett being put out to pasture. To the contrary, he is to become the head of the executive of U.S. attorneys. In that capacity, he will help direct the work of the 94 attorneys and referee disputes among them. According to the Post, his appointment “sends a message to incoming U.S. attorneys about the importance of professional conduct.” This will represent a breath of fresh air, since Jarrett undoubtedly is replacing a partisan Republican, hand-picked by Karl Rove, with little or no prosecutorial experience.

Okay, not exactly. Jarrrett will replace Ken Melson, who previously served for 25 years as a career federal prosecutor in Alexandria, Virginia (where he was a colleague of occasional Power Line contributor Bill Otis). Melson is sufficiently well-respected by the new administration that he will become acting chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firie Arms, and Explosives. In that capacity, he “will play a role in the administration’s heightened efforts to reduce violence and gun traffic on the southwestern U.S. border.”

I think you get the picture. Holder may be making some quality appointments, but the notion that he’s cleaning up the Justice Department by replacing politicos with career prosecutors is undercut, rather than supported, by the Post’s puff-piece.

And, of course, Holder, in a very unusual move, has already rejected the view of the Justice Department’s elite Office of Legal Counsel on the constitutionality of D.C “voting rights” legislation and, in doing so, reached a conclusion that plainly favors the political interests of the president and his party. So much for relying on the top professionals and keeping politics out of it.


Books to read from Power Line