Saturday, December 29, 2007
ATTORNEY GENERAL Michael B. Mukasey should be commended for making good on his promise to reverse a policy that undermined the integrity of the Justice Department.
During the tenure of John D. Ashcroft, President Bush's first attorney general, dozens of Justice Department lawyers were authorized to speak with White House personnel about pending civil or criminal investigations. During the tenure of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, hundreds of White House and Justice Department employees were given such clearance. These extensive contacts raised concerns about too much White House intrusion in what should largely be an apolitical Justice Department.
This month, Mr. Mukasey dramatically pared back the number of officials authorized to conduct such conversations. Under the new policy, only the top four Justice officials are cleared -- and to speak only with the top two lawyers at the White House. For practical reasons, these four officials -- the attorney general, deputy attorney general, associate attorney general and solicitor general -- may authorize a subordinate to speak with the White House about a particular case, but Mr. Mukasey's Dec. 19 memorandum makes clear that these delegations should be "limited to the fewest number of people practicable."
The memo allows Justice Department employees below the top four slots to communicate directly with White House personnel on such non-law-enforcement matters as budgeting and legislation. The memo also carves out an exception for national security matters to ensure "frequent and expeditious communications" about counterterrorism and counterespionage issues, although these contacts must be brought to the attention of the attorney general or deputy attorney general.
Mr. Mukasey explains that the limitations are intended to ensure that there is "public confidence that the laws of the United States are administered and enforced in an impartial manner." That is the right goal.