For Ashcroft, Something Old, Something Nude
It was, let's face it, inevitable. And so, on Wednesday, at the swearing-in of Attorney General Michael Mukasey at the Justice Department, former attorney general John D. Ashcroft was reunited with "The Spirit of Justice," the 12-foot Art Deco-era sculpture his aides once famously covered with giant blue drapes at a cost of more than $8,000.
The statue, also known as "Minnie Lou," was ordered uncovered in 2005 in one of the signal achievements of the Alberto R. Gonzales attorney generalship. The decision was made by Paul Corts, assistant attorney general for administration, who is now president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
Blame, or credit, for the coverup fell to advance aide Lani Miller, who reportedly acted after Ashcroft expressed unhappiness about appearing in news photos with the bare-breasted statue over his head.
Meanwhile, a report by the department's inspector general yesterday listed "Restoring Confidence in the Department of Justice" as the No. 2 priority (after terrorism) in the Top Management and Performance Challenges for 2007.
"An immediate challenge facing Department of Justice leadership is the need to restore confidence in the department," the report said, "both with department employees and with the public.
Allegations of political shenanigans in the removal of nine U.S. attorneys and "other allegations regarding the integrity and independence of the Department have affected the morale of . . . and public confidence in the decisions of Department leaders," Glenn A. Fine's report said. "This turmoil, combined with numerous high-level vacancies, creates an urgent challenge" for the agency's leadership, it added.
So yesterday, with Mukasey on board, the White House announced five nominees to fill some of the vacancies. The nominations include one sitting federal judge and three others with lengthy experience at the Justice Department.
It's a list that stands in sharp contrast to many of the appointments made by Gonzales, who came under sharp criticism for hiring inexperienced or overly political aides.
U.S. District Judge Mark R. Filip of the Northern District of Illinois has been tapped to be deputy attorney general, and Kevin J. O'Connor, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut who served as Gonzales's last chief of staff, is to be associate attorney general, the No. 3 slot.
Grace E. Becker, the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, was chosen to run that division, and Gregory G. Katsas, who had been No. 2 in the civil division, was picked to be its next chief. Bush also said he will nominate Nathan J. Hochman, a tax lawyer from California, to head the tax division.
Mukasey said yesterday that Brett C. Gerry, now assistant attorney general for legal policy, will become his chief of staff.
You've Been Served!
In a related -- sort of -- development, the alleged "D.C. Madam" served a subpoena Tuesday on Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) requiring him to testify about his use of her escort service, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.