A few days after Griffin Bell took office as attorney general, a staff aide came racing into Bell's office. "The White House just phoned," the aide said breathlessly, " and they want us to . . . " "Hold on there, drawled Bell, holding up his hand like a cop stopping traffic. "Buildings don't call. People call."
Since that day, Bell has made it clear to the White House staff that if they want to deliver a message to the Justice Department, it should be delivered to the attorney general or one of his two deputies.
"That phone message, "The White House is calling,' and i dont't want my people being upset."
Griffin Bell upset plenty of people two years ago when he was appointed. Liberals and Republicans were critical of the appointment because they feared Bell would be too cozy with his old friend President Carter. And there was every reason to worry. In the past two decades the Justice Department has been strongly tied to the White House. Robert Kennedy, John Mitchell, Richard Kleindients -- each was a presidential campaign manager, or close to it, who became the top law enforcement official in the nation. The dangers of that arrangement were cleary demonstrated by Watergate. And in 1977 the worry was that the Justice Department, after a period of relative neutrality under Edward Levi, would once again become politicized under Griffin Bell. The marston affair seemed to confirm that fear.
But as Bell prepares to leave the Justice Department now, he is proud of the fact that he has erected a giant barrier between his department and the White House. Whether the Justice department will be as independent after Bell leaves remains to be seen.
Bell said from the beginning of his tenure that he would not stay on at the Justice Department until the 1980 election. And he hasn't loved life in the nation's capital.In fact, his wife has returned to Atlanta and Bell lives alone here, going home on the weekends. Bell misses law practice. Sometimes, he says, "i just long to have a client walk into my office and ask for my help."
In legal circles, Bell is not viewed as a "great" attorney general. But in terms of what he set out to do, to establish a "nonpartisan neutral zone," he may have left an important legacy.
Another legacy Bell leaves behind is 152 new judges to fill newly created judicial seats. No other attorney general in history has been responsible for choosing so many new federal judges. Presidents, of course, appoint judges, but in the Carter administration Bell has held almost all the power on judicial appointments.
On policy matters, Bell has emerged as noactivist, midle-of-the-road, neither liberal nor conservative, but a hardliner on issues of national security and law and order. He likes to let the varios division cheifs run their own shops, but he is a strong man who is quick to act if something offends his sense of integrity, the rule of law, or his sense of patriotism.
Bell's emphasis on integrity, the rule of law and patriotism is not suprising in view of his background and his 15 years as a Court of Appeals judge.He has every reason for putting his faith in this system: it has been good to him. Griffin Bogette Bell has advanced in life from part-time clerk in his father's service station in South Georgia to being one of the most powerful men in America.
At 60, Griffin Bell looks something like a bemused bird, who watches the goings on in the nation's capital with alternating irritation and amusement. He clothes himself more in the trappings of Wall Street than Atlanta -- Brooks Brothers suits, narrow ties, dark-rimmed glasses, and close-cut hair. But the face is right out of Huck Finn -- eyes twinkling, nose twitching, ears sticking out from his head.
Bell's style is strictly informal. When he took office, for example, he immediately made public his daily appointment and telephone log -- something no other cabinet officer has done. He starts each day at an 8 a.m. breakfast with his staff. It's not a business breakfast, and journalists, bar leaders, even congressman are invited to join in. Ideas are tossed around, columnists occasionally berated, and jokes traded.
He uses humor artfully. Often to make a point or win an argument. When a cabinet officer pushed Bell hard to bring a case the attorney general thought was a loser, Bell finally said, "you're not asking me to be your lawyer, you're asking me to be your pallbearer."
Jokes at his own expense are a Bell specialty. When a federal district judge in New York cited Bell for contempt for refusing to turn over the names of FBI imformants in the Socialist Workers Party suit against the FBI, a friend sent Bell a hacksaw. Bell, so far, has not had to saw his way out of jail [the contempt citation was reversed on appeal], but he had the hacksaw mounted on the door to his office. He gave the saw to Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano when Califano was threatened with contempt of court. Califano reportedly was not ammused.
Bell also is not the least bit afraid to use his wit at President Carter's expense, as he did in a speech to the Alfalfa Club
"President Carter . . . is a man of great courage. His entire career epitomizes courage. on his desk sits Harry Truman's great plaque -- "the Buck Stops Here.' It was this courageous, steely-eyed, determined president who turned to his aide and said, 'Hamilton, you fire Bella.'"
Not many people can joke that way about the president and get away with it. But the consensus is that Griffin Bell and Charles Kirbo are the two men and the president respects and trusts most. And it was Bell who first put Carter in touch with Kirbo. But the relationship between Carter and Bell is not one between two old pals chewing the fat together. There are even reports that Bell is not one between two old pals chewing the fat together. There are even reports that Bell is frustrated because he is never invited over to the White House for a personal visit. Rather Carter seems to treat Bell more like a respected, distant and older brother. And like all older brothers, Bell does pretty much what he wants. He doesn't bend to pressure, even from the president of the United States. In fact, Bell has been so successful at insulating the Justice Department from political pressures that many in the White House complain they have no input on legitimate policy matters. "You elect a president because of a certain philosophy," argues one upper-level White House aide, "and you expect that philosophy to be carried out. The White House should have a role in determining what briefs the solicitor general files, what civil rights cases are brought, what civil cases are defended. To say, for example, that the White House shouldn't get involved in the Bakke case, as Bell originally did, is just crazy!"
So Griffin Bell's stewardship of the Justice Department is something of a case study in how an apolitical Justice Department can effect the body politic.
Perhaps no case tested Bell's resolve more than a police brutality case from Texas, known as Rodriquez. Bell's actions on the Rodriquez matter showed him willing to incur the wrath of the president and a powerful political group in order to preserve what Bell viewed as the rule of law.
Santos Rodriquez was a Mexican-American youngster killed by a Texas policeman in a game of "Russian roylette." The policeman was tried, convicted and sentenced to only five years in prison. The Mexican-American community wanted the Justice Department to intervene on federal grounds, and to prosecute the policeman on federal civil rights charges. President Carter got interested in the case when he asked about it in Texas and shown pictures of the youngster's body.
The case came to Griffin Bell's desk last summer with a recommendation from the civil rights division that there be no second prosecution. The civil rights division felt that to try the policeman on federal charges would be a violation of the Constitution's ban on double jeopardy. Bell agreed with this conclusion and made the decision not to prosecute. Then he left on a trip to Australia.
By all accounts, while he was gone, all hell broke loose. President Carter called a Mexican-American state legislator in Texas and told him he was embarrassed by the attorney general's decision not to prosecute. A group of Mexican-Americans then met with Vice President Mondale and Mondale arranged for them to see Deputy Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti. The president called Civiletti to ask him to reconsider the decision, and Civiletti began a review of the file. Civiletti describes the president's tone of voice as "angry" and "concerned."
Later the same day Civiletti met with the Mexican-American group for several hours. As Bell aide Terry Adamson describes it, "We were in a quandary. We'd hoped to reach Judge Bell. While the Mexican-American group waited in Ben's office, we kept trying, but we could'nt locate the judge. Finally, Ben called the president back and told him he would stick with the attorney general's decision." The president and his staff were furious. Even the Justice Department's antitrust cheif faced caustic remarks about the case when he went to the White House to discuss a wholly different matter. And a Bell aide quotes Carter's domestic adviser Stuart Eizenstat as remarking acidly one day, "you just cost us Texas.
When Bell returned from Australia, he was incensed. As Civiletti describes it, "Bell perceived this as an attempt by the White House to influence a decision which was properly a Justice Department case. He was particularly mad because it was done while he was away, and he saw it as an attempt to get the deputy to cave in his absence."
Bell himself says the Rodriquez case was "the greatest crisis i've had with the president. The president felt strongly the policeman should be prosecuted by the federal government. We made a decision through the normal process not to prosecute. So the issue was, Could a prosecution be directed from the White House, or is that a decision vested in the attorney general?The president realized eventually that it was up to the attorney general, and that his remedy was to fire the attorney general." Bell drawls on, "The president didn't think my crimes were high enough for me to be removed." The end result of the Rodriquez case is that it showed everyone in the administration that Griffin Bell didn't mind getting fired to make a point, and that he wasn't going to get drawn into political consideration in deciding whether to prosecute a case.
A footnote to the Rodriquez case: Bell was so impressed by Deputy Attorney General Civiletti's toughness in the face of White House pressure that Bell now wants Civiletti to replace him as attorney general. Some in the White House prefer Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Bell says he has recommended both men.
Bell is one of those people who learns lessons well, and the lesson he learned from the Marston affair is that the appearance of impropriety is what counts, even if the reality is proper.
David Marston was the Republican holdover, U.S. attorney in Philadelphia who succeeded in humiliating the Carter administration with charges of playing politics with justice.
Justice Department officials insist that Marston was never involved in a Justice Department investigation, being run from Washington, of political corruption in Pennsylvania. In November 1977, one of the targets of that investigation, Democratic Rep. Joshua Eilberg, called President Carter to complain about the investigation. U.S. Attorney Marston was briefed on the call, and the story leaked to the press. A furor followed. Marston accused the administration of playing politics with law enforcement. Bell called Marston to Washington to tell him he would have to leave, but the attorney general asked Marston to stay on until a replacement could be found. Marston refused and went outside to tell a mob of waiting reporters that he'd been fired.
Eilberg was eventually indicted and convicted, but Bell was horified by what he admits was his own "mishandling" of the affair. "I should have followed my first instinct," says Bell. "I should have let Marston go at the beginning when all the other U.S. attorneys were asked to resign. I got talked into letting him stay on." Bell says the Marston affair set back his getting a handle on the Justice Department by three months.
So when the Carter Warehouse investigation began to bubble ominously in the media, and when Republicans began demanding a special prosecutor, Bell decided it was time to forego his initial opposition to a speical prosecutor. Still Bell hated the term "prosecutor," and when he appointed New York's Paul Curan to head the Carter Warehouse investigation, he dubbed him a "special counsel." Originally Bell didn't give Curran all the powers that Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski had had. But when the Republicans began to howl in protest, Bell readily relented. Why did he change his mind? "This thing was creating a distrust in the presidency," says Bell. "Something had to be done so that a responsible investigation could be made and report given to the American public." Simply put, Bell had worked too long and too hard to bring back respect to the Justice Department for it to evaporate in the Carter Warehouse investigation.
Griffin Bell is an expert at protecting his territorial turf. When the White House staff quietly got President Carter to reverse a Justice Department position in a major environmental case before the Supreme Court Bell went to Carter personally and prevailed. Then, to teach the White House staff a lesson, Bell argued the case before the Supreme Court.
In the Bakke case, Bell did not get his way so thoroughly. But the Bakke case illustrates more than internal policy pulls. It shows Bell's basic conservatism and his belief in meritocracy. The Bakke case tested whether affirmative action programs in university admissions discriminate unconstitutionally against whites. Originally, the Justice Department brief argued that Bakke should win the case and be admitted to the University of California Medical School at Davis, As one White House aide put it, "When we saw that brief, we got hysterical. We finally went to the vice president to get him to intervene with the president." Mondale did. And the pressure began to mount. HEW Secretary Califano asked Bell to change the brief. The Black Caucus met with Bell to protest. Mondale, Robert Lipshutz, the president's counsel, and Eizenstat, held a meeting with Bell. The three White House heavies were alarmed the administration would side with Bakke. Bell, according to his aides, was angry at being pressured, and he felt a special loyalty to the two men who had been working on the brief, Solicitor General Wade McCree Jr. and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Drew Days. Bell ordered McCree and Days to lock themselves in a room and work out a final draft.
When McCree and Days settled on what they would say in the Brief, McCree phoned Bell. It was Saturday, and Bell was in his office. Bell typed out a summary of the principles himself and sent aide Terry Adamson to deliver the summary to Eizenstat at the White House. That afternoon Bell flew with Vice President Mondale by helicopter to Blackhill Falls, W. Va. When the attorney general got off the helicopter, there was a message that the White House was calling.
Adamson went to the phone. It was Eizenstat with the message that the president had seen the memo of principles and was satisfied. The attorney general could proceed. The breif filed with the Supreme Court sided basically against Bakke. But while Bell may have lost the internal debate on the question of meritocracy and affirmative action, he at least felt he protected his own staff.
That loyalty to staff was illustrated again in the Feeney case, the case testing whether absolute preference for veterans in public employment unconstitionally discriminates against women. The Justice Department filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that absolute preference is constitutional.Bell says he didn't know about the brief. When the president and his staff learned about it, they were appalled because the president had taken exactly the opposite position in his civil service reform legislation. "When the president asked me about it," Bell says, "I didn't know . . . it was the blind leading the blind." But Bell still refused to recall the brief, apparently feeling that such a move would unduly embarass his solicitor general. Nonetheless, the flap over veterans preference led to a formal meeting between domestic adviser Eizenstat and Bell in which Bell agreed to institute a review system for briefs on major policy issues going to the Supreme Court.
Bell's decisions in these cases show his operating style on a day-to-day basis. He's independent, flexible, not afraid to change his mind, and loyal to his staff and his principles.
But politics is politics, and Bell is a good old-fashioned Southern politician. Some inside the administration view him as the second most powerful man in America, more powerful than Vice President Mondale. It is a testament to Bell's power than no White House staffer interviewed for this article was willing to be quoted by name saying anything critical of Bell.
Bell carefully picks fights he thinks he can win, and there are some fights he thinks are not worth using his chips on. For example, when Carter named the first batch of judicial screening commissions, Bell was appalled.
They were loaded with what Bell called ECSS -- Early Carter Supporters. But Bell knew that the president's powerful political adviser Hamilton Jordan was responsible for the lists, and Bell Didn't think he could win this fight with Jordon. So instead Bell insisted on appointing the committee chairmen. He figured he could control the commisions through them, and to a large extent, he has. Bell openly admits, "The saving grace was the chairmen I appointed."
Bell knows that the business of appointing judges is, by its very nature, political. He once observed that in his own case, "becoming a federal judge wasn't very difficult. I managed John F. Kennedy's campaign in Georgia. Two of my oldest and closest friends were the two senators from Georgia. And I was campaign manager and special unpaid counsel for the govenor."
Today, Republicans grumble that under Bell less than a handful of Republicans have been appointed to the federal bench. Bell responds deadpan that the Carter administration doesn't have any "affirmative action program for Republicans."
The Carter Administration will leave a giant imprint on the nation's judiciary because, by the time 1980 rolls around, this president will have appointed nearly half of the sitting federal judges have life tenure and will remain on the bench for decades.
So it was that women, blacks and Hispanics looked to these appointments as a rare opportunity to increase their meager numbers on the federal bench, and President Carter promised he would do just that. Carrying out that order, Griffin Bell publicly embarked on a campaign to bring more women and minorities into the federal judiciary. But in recent weeks, women and blacks have denounced the Carter Administration for failing to carry out that promise.
Inside the Justice Department, women and blacks say that Bell is deeply committed to his affirmative action program, but they say he is having a hard time persuading senators -- who traditionally control judgeships -- to pass over their white male buddies in favor of women, blacks, and Hispanics. Bell can blame the senators for lagging on district court judgeships. But he cannot so easily blame senators for the record on circuit court judgeships. The screening panels that recommend these judicial candidates are appointed by President Carter, and senators have much less influence. The Circuit Court of Appeals screening process for 35 newly created appellate judgeships is now complete. The screening panels have recommended 138 names from which the 35 are to be chosen. Of the 138 names, 103 are white male.
Mildred Jeffrey, the chair of the National Women's Political Caucus, calls the record "a disgrace." Brent Simmons of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund calls it "an affront to blacks and Hispanics." He says the record is "appalling," that it "hardly qualifies even as a token." Junius Williams, the president of the Black National Bar Association, calls it "a continuation of the good ol' boy coporate elite syndrome."
Attorney General Bell notes, with justification, that no other administration has ever appointed so many blacks, women and Hispanics to the federal bench. But the fact is the women and minorities expected more.
One Bell blind spot appears to be his home state of Georgia where his old friend Henry Bowden is chairman of the District Court screening commission. On January 22, 1979 Bowden wrote a letter saying that the commissions "should make no effort to make sure that some black, some woman, some white, some man, or some Chicano should be included" in the selection process. Despite Bowden's forthright rejection of an executive order to seek out minorities and women, Bell has consistently defended his old friend, and attorney general says he has no intention of asking Bowden to resign.
In the civil rights and civil liberties community, Bell has been heavily criticized for his judicial appointments record in his old circuit, the Deep South. The Southern Regional Council recently issued a report that concluded: "Race is still a burden and politics remains king in the appointment of federal judges in the South today."
On Capitol Hill, Bell is a glowing personal success. He has negotiated a number of tricky legislative compromises, and this year he seems finally on the treshold of getting passed a major recodification of the nation's criminal laws. The key to this prospective turnaround is Bell's winning over of liberal rep. Robert Drinan [D - Mass.], formerly a stalward opponent of recodification, who chairs the House subcommittee handling the bill.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, treats Bell with uncharacteristic respect, avoiding embarassing questions with a vengeance. Bell gets along with the minority Republicans well too, though Robert McClory, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee says he still views Bell as "a Democratic partisan."
Bell also wins highest praise for the people he has brought to the Justice Department, lawyers of the highest caliber, many of them from the public interest sphere.
He has proven himself perceptive and compassionate as a manager. He is not one of those people who put management goals above personal needs. The system has paid off, at least in the case of Assistant Attorney General Daniel Meador.Eighteen months ago, Meador went suddenly blind. He immediately sent his resignation to Bell. But Bell refused to accept it, saying that as long as there was nothing wrong with Meador's mind, he should stay on the job.
Meador stayed, and he now gives Bell credit for giving him the will to continue. As it turns out, Daniel Meador has been one of Bell's greatest assets. Meador drew up the court improvements legislation that Bell pushed through Congress -- legislation that is one of Bell's proudest accomplishments.
Griffin Bell's greatest legacy, however, may be his work in the field of intelligence. The decisions he has made on cases and the policies he has set in this field will be remembered long after he has gone. Bell brings to the intelligence field his deep sense of old-fashioned patriotism, a judge's faith in the courts, and an insistence that the government must be protected at all costs.
He is not a knee-jerk patriot. For example, Bell and Vice President Mondale fought hard when the wiretap bill was being debated inside the administration.They wanted a criminal standard -- a bill that would require the government to show a violation of federal law before it could get a warrant to conduct an electronic surbeillance. They were opposed by Defense Secretary Harold Brown and CIA Director Stansfield Turner. Bell and Mondale won, in part because Bell argued so persuasively that federal judges could be trusted with the nation's secrets, and that the rule of law required a criminal standard and a warrant system. The historic foreign intelligence wiretap bill passed Congress and now is the law of the land.
But in the actual cases that Bell has had to decide for the Justice Department, he has been a hardliner. Take the case of Vietnamese expatriate David Truong and USIA employe Ronald Humphrey, prosecuted for espionage. The documents Humphrey and Truong were charged with taking were of the lowest classification, almost all labeled only confidential and a couple labeled secret. In spy terms, that simply is not information worth having. But Griffin Bell prosecuted Humphrey and Truong to the limits of the law. Both Humphrey and Truong were convicted. Bell now admits that the Humphrey case was a "pitiful" one and that Ronald Humphrey was charged with stealing "marginally classified" documents. But Bell adds, "you have to go against an American citizen harder than a foreigner. He stole our secrets. He has to pay for it."
The Snepp case is another example of Bell's strong view of his role as government protector. Frank Snepp is an ex-CIA employe who wrote a book savaging the CIA's performance in Vietnam. Although CIA Director Turner testified that the book revealed no classified information, the Justice Department went ahead with a suit against Snepp, charging the former CIA man with breach of contract in writing a book without clearing it with the CIA. Griffin Bell personally authorized the suit despite reservations expressed at the lower levels of the Justice Department.
Just recently, in The Progressive case, Bell once again overrode department recommendations and took a hard line. This time his object was to stop publication of an article about nuclear weapons -- even though the information appears to have been available to the public for years.
However, in two intelligence cases that Bell inherited from the Ford administration, Bell was more willing to make compromises.
The first case involved charges that former Cia Director Richard Helms lied to a congressional committee. During his confirmation hearings as ambassador to Iran, Helms allegedly testified falsely about the CIA's role in Chile. Edward Levi, then attorney general, couldn't bring himself to decide whether Helms should be prosecuted was left in Bell's lap.
The difficulty was that the case, if it went to trial, would rquire a discussion of some national security secrets in open court. As Bell tells it, "The helms case was almost impossible. The only way i ever got that case compromised was based on Helm's patriotism. He was accused of not telling the Senate the truth to protect the foreign intelligence. So there was no way i could ever believe he would defend himself by giving away the foreign intelligence secrets. I knew that somewhere along the way he and his lawyer would have to face that, and that's the way it worked out. Once it was faced, we worked out a compromise." [Helms pleaded no contest to a misdeameanor of failing to tell the full truth to a congressional committee.] "Helms could have gotten out of it," Bell maintains, "but that would have been contrary to his whole life."
There are those, like the ACLU's Mark Lynch, who say Bell's weakness is that he's a "patsy" for the intelligence community. Such charges that Bell is soft on the intelligence community when it commits wrongs are supported, at least in part, by his decisions on who to prosecute and for what, in the FBI case. That case, also inherited from the Ford administration, involved an investigation of some of 60 FBI agents and higher-ups for illegal break-ins, burglaries, wiretaps, mail covers, and the coverup of those activities when they were investigated by the GAO and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Bell says the decision on whom to prosecute and whom not to prosecute in the case was the toughest of his tenure. He sees FBI agents and CIA directors in an entirely different light than CIA men who write books. He has no tolerance for whistle-blowers in the nation's intelligence community. But he has enornous symphathy for intelligence officials who violate the law in the course of their duties.
Thus, he insisted that only the three top former FBI officials be prosecuted, and he authorized only the most limited kind of prosecution. He did not want to indict any FBI men for perjury because he felt that, in law enforcement terms, perjury amounted to moral turpitude.
That, at least, is the view of the prosecution team which quit en masse rather than handle the FBI case the way Bell wanted. The five-man team headed by Justice Department Attorney William Gardener wanted to indict eight top current and former FBI officials.
In the FBI case Bell was faced with a highly controversial case, a case he has been criticized for handling too softly and two harshly. Bell thinks he resolved the case in an egalitarian way. Others disagree, most importantly his first prosecution team. In this case Bell chose to overrule his subordintes because he viewed them as shortsighted and because he thought that to follow their recommendation would damage his effort to rebuilt the FBI.
When the Gardner team quit, Bell appointed a new prosecution team that did what he wanted. Paul hoeber, a former team member, notes that Bell has shut down all but a very small part of the investigation. The prosecution now underway, says Hoeber, doesn't touch the illegal wiretapping, the illegal mail opening; it doesn't touch the coverup before the Senate Intelligence Committee or the GAO. Perhaps most important, says #hoeber, it doesn't tough the perjury before the grand jury.
Indeed, one of the men Bell decided not to prosecute was J. Wallace LaPrade, the former head of the 2,000-person New York FBI field of office. Instead of prosecuting LaPrade for perjury as the Gardner team recommended, Bell met with LaPrade and begged him to tell the truth to the grand jury. Bell admits now that LaPrade disappointed him. LaPrade has called at least two press conferences to blast Bell as a political hack.
As the Gardner team sees it, Bell's decision to prosecute only the top three offenders was not only a moral mistake but a strategic one, "If this case goes to trial," says one former team member "the prosecution will be relying on a lot of witnesses who committed serious felonies and whose hearts and minds are with the defense. The prosecution will have no hammer to make them tell the truth in the most stark and damaging way."
Stephen Horn, another member of the Gardner team, views Bell's handling of the FBI case as "a sterling example of his approach . . . he's not an attorney general with vision, with a long perspective. He looks at things as a politician would. He has an innate sense of right and wrong. But as a politician his sense of the future is tommorow or next week. His idea of doing right is to divide the baby in half, like Solomon, and get criticized by everybody. Then he knows he's done the right thing. In political terms he wanted to reform the FBI. He saw his tenure as a new day for the bureau -- there was going to be a new FBI director -- and he made no secret of his feelings. He felt that even if the felonies committed were serious ones, he couldn't allow years of trial and turmoil or he would never get the FBI back on track."
Few doubt that Griffin Bell is willing to take criticism from all quarters for his decisions. The unanswered question is what Bell will do when he comes face to face with the intelligence community and somebody has to blink. Phillip Lacovara, former counsel to the Watergate Special Prosecutor, notes that "for years federal prosecutors have been unwilling to bite the bullet and tell the intelligence agencies that they have to compromise some information in order to set an example." The question is, Will Griffin Bell bite the bullet?
Bell is not an attorney general like Robert Kennedy; he's not a prosecutor's prosecutor, casing the bad guys down to the ends of the earth. He's not a scholar like Edward Levi; and he's not a crusader like Ramsey Clark. Rather, Griffin Bell is a man who wants to be remembered as the attorney general who followed the rule of law, the man who brought respect and prestige back to the Department of Justice. He is a man who is quietly confident about his decisions and his judgment. It doesn't bother him that he is a friend of the president's. And perhaps only a crony could have the kind of independence that Bell does in the Carter administration.
Former Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach says that "given the damage an attorney general can inflict on a president, it is important that there be a special relationship and confidence. Otherwise the president will start shopping for legal advice elsewhere." Katzenbach laughingly proves his point by noting that "Lyndon Johnson had confidence in me most of the time. The rest of the time he went to Abe Fortas for legal advice."
Jimmy Carter doesn't go to anyone but Griffin Bell for legal advice. And one of the reasons Bell feels so free to give advice is that he's not afraid to leave Washington, to lose his big job.
There are those, like Vice President Mondale, who think Bell's next job will be even bigger -- a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. That, of course, presupposes that Carter has a chance to fill a vacancy. Bell says he's not interested in the Supreme Court, that he just wants to go back to Atlanta to practice law. But then, in 1976, he was saying he wasn't interested in being attorney general. CAPTION: Picture, no Caption, By James K.W. Atherton