NY Times calls for Gonzales to quit

… and refers to him as Bush’s “consigliere,” which is pretty stiff language.
But let’s not blame Gonzales for the FBI’s misbehavior. Ever since J. Edgar, the Bureau has been a lawlessness unto itself.

Boy, that was quick, wasn’t it? The Overblown Personnel Matter has gone from zero to calls-for-resignation faster than any scandal in memory.

Two notes, one verbal and one substantive.

1. The editorial refers to Gonzales as Bush’s “consigliere.” In Italian, that word has non-pejorative meanings. But in English, a “consigliere” is the senior adviser to a Mafia don. I assume that the editors of the New York Times write in English.

Pretty strong language: not unfair, but strong. Perhaps someone ought to tell the President that his behavior has gotten to the point where what used to be called the Establishment thinks of him as the operator of an organized criminal enterprise.

2. I’m glad the DoJ Inspector General blew the whistle on the FBI’s abuse of National Security Letters. But surely there’s no surprise here. Giving the Bureau power and expecting that power not be be abused is like throwing a newspaper into the ocean and expecting the newspaper not to get wet.

Much as I’d like to blame the latest fiasco on Bush & Co. or on Gonzales, they almost certainly knew nothing about it. Ever since J. Edgar Hoover, the Bureau has been a lawlessness unto itself. No Attorney General has ever been able to exercise real control over the FBI. (Naturally, Robert Mueller is taking the Washington version of “full responsibility;” i.e., he’s not planning to resign, and he’s also, apparently, not planning to fire anyone.)

I hope the next President decides to establish civilian control over the Bureau. But it won’t be easy. The Bureau fights dirty, and it has lots of other abusable power, including doing background checks on all Presidential appointees. This might be a good time to take that power away, which the Senate can do simply by announcing that it won’t insist on FBI background checks before holding hearings.

It’s time to cut the Bureau down to size, and rid the agency of the tainted legacy of J. Edgar Hoover. (There’s a strong case on policy grounds for separating the internal-security function, which belongs in DHS if there’s going to be a DHS, from ordinary law enforcement.) But cleaning up that mess is not a task for the faint of heart; whoever tries it will need both body armor and a fair-sized river.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com