DOJ Attorney Slams His Own Shop

John S. Koppel, a civil attorney with the Department of Justice, lashed out at DOJ in a Denver Post editorial the other day. Both the content and the (relatively shrill) tenor of the piece are notable, given that Koppel is apparently still employed by Uncle Sam. In an piece titled “Bush DOJ is a National Disgrace”, he pens some juicy lines like:

In more than a quarter of a century at the DOJ, I have never before seen such consistent and marked disrespect on the part of the highest ranking government policymakers for both law and ethics. It is especially unheard of for U.S. attorneys to be targeted and removed on the basis of pressure and complaints from political figures dissatisfied with their handling of politically sensitive investigations and their unwillingness to “play ball.”…. Law enforcement is not supposed to be a political team sport, and prosecutorial independence and integrity are not “performance problems.”


[The Bush administration] has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor “politics as usual,” but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate – which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

The news isn’t that attorneys at the DOJ have these political views – they are, after all, squarely in the mainstream – but that DOJ attorneys are at the point of uttering them very publicly. It is possible that Koppel is an outlier – a person with questionable judgment – or maybe he is trying to place himself in the spotlight so that he can win an offer from another shop. (One cannot understate the difficulty of lateral movement for a mid-career government attorney.) Still, it seems to me emblematic of both the challenges the Bush administration must face from within and, perhaps more importantly, the degree to which DOJ has lost control of its own operations. Perhaps Koppel will, as he fears, be punished. But more likely, based on the active blogging about this piece, he will become a 15 minute superstar whose fame innoculates him from retaliation. In any case, I supsect that there are hundreds (or thousands) of DOJ attorneys who are quietly applauding this piece. “Not sure I would have written that”, they’re whispering at dinner parties. “But he sure is right.”

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