“All Kinds of Lawyers”

I’m not the only one to suggest that Bush’s submitting the domestic wiretap policy for regular “approval” by the Justice Department was a joke. And it was. But it turns out that some in Justice weren’t laughing; some political appointees remembered what an attorney at law is. An outstanding Newsweek story gives details. And it turns out that the same actors took the same side on wiretaps—and torture.

I’m not the only one to suggest that Bush’s submitting the domestic wiretap policy for regular “approval” by the Justice Department was a joke. (In the President’s words, “all kinds of lawyers” thought the program was legit.) And it was. But it turns out that some in Justice weren’t laughing: some political appointees remembered what an attorney at law is. An outstanding Newsweek story gives details. It turns out that more or less the same actors took the same sides on wiretaps as they did on torture—no great surprise, but not inevitable either. (Hat tip: Patriot Daily, via TalkLeft, via Kevin Drum. )

Drum says there’s “no simple takeaway,” but here’s one: even a religious fanatic can be a conscientious professional. And here’s another: a majority of the public may think that this controversy is just about warrantless taps on terrorists rather than a systematic campaign to expand executive power—but they’re wrong. The politics of this is still very perilous for Democrats, but the substantive lesson gets ever clearer.

UPDATE (January 31): Dan Drezner weighs in stressing the conservatism of the people who got forced out for insisting on playing by the rules and interpreting the law as it was traditionally understood. “The fact that Addington, Cheney, and by extension Bush managed to force out people like Goldsmith and Comey means that the legal consensus within the administration is way, way outside the legal mainstream. ” Hat tip: Kevin Drum, again.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.