Monday, August 13, 2007

Smackdown: Dan Abrams takes out Karl Rove

I occasionally used to watch former Congressman Joe Scarborough (R–FL-01) on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, because, although Joe is considerably to the right of me politically, I respect his integrity that he is at least trying to be even-handed. A few weeks ago, though, the post-Olbermann time slot went to Dan Abrams. I've been pretty impressed with Dan, but tonight he was, if I may say, Olbermannesque in his "My Take" segment on the departure of Karl Rove. The video clip is up on MSNBC's web site. Dan, a former reporter for CourtTV, makes the case against Karl Rove from a traditional conservative perspective of respect for the Rule of Law, and he does it with vigor and flair. I'll give you the LincMad View of Dan Abrams' "My Take," below the fold.

The blockquotes below are all from the broadcast of MSNBC Live with Dan Abrams, 2007-08-13. The unindented text is my comments.

Dan Abrams: "My Take": If Karl Rove had been a professional wrestler, they might've called him The Constitutional Crippler. I'll leave his political legacy to others, although I think it's foolish when looking for explanations for the 2000 [sic] Republican political rout to blame Rove the political operative as opposed to Rove the chief policy analyst. That was the war speaking, how the Republicans talked about it in the campaign, wouldn't've changed a thing.

But in terms of his legal legacy, Rove has long applied basic political strategy to the courts: accuse your opponents — or critics — of engaging in the very behavior that could become your own Achilles Heel. Rove has accused judges of "bending the law" to fit their personal agenda — it's true, some do — but I can't think of a federal judge who has done that more than Karl Rove himself.

Rove called the federal judiciary "fundamentally out of touch with mainstream America." A nice campaign slogan, but it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of judges. They're not supposed to reflect popular opinion. It also demonstrates some hypocrisy: he cites The Will of The People, until, of course, it comes to The People's reaction to this administration's policy. Then he ignores it, and he even said, quote, "I'm not gonna stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob"!
Bottom line: Karl Rove cares about getting and keeping raw political power for its own sake, more than he cares about a great many issues affecting the well-being of our nation. I've still never been able to find corroboration for the quote, but I remember seeing Karen Hughes, another Bush political advisor, interviewed in early 2001, saying that the Bush legal team was fully prepared to go to court to argue for the supremacy of the popular vote over the electoral college if, as was thought quite possible, Bush had won the popular and not the electoral, instead of the other way around. It's all right for politicians to want political power; that's kind of up there with saying it's okay to breathe and eat and sleep. What is emphatically not okay is to want political power as an end in itself, whether you're talking about Willie Brown and John Burton or Karl Rove and George W. Bush.
Rove's legacy is littered with examples of shifting rules to accommodate his own political objectives. We don't know exactly how involved he was in certain administration decisions, about everything from the NSA spying to Guantánamo; we do know, according to Justice Department e-mails, that in January 2005 Rove was asking about firing all 93 U.S. attorneys, that he passed along specific complaints about others, then reportedly advised on how to make the firings seem "merit-based." And to avoid being scrutinized — EVER — he sent more than 140,000 e-mails through the Republican National Committee's computer system, instead of through the White House, thereby circumventing federal law; that's according to a House oversight committee.

His philosophy: expand the power of the Executive Branch, often meaning his own power, and demean the branch of government willing to rein him in, the Judicial Branch. Rove used court appointments as a political carrot, privately assuring religious groups, for example, that court nominees would share their beliefs. And for the fired U.S. attorneys, it was also about politics, but in the form of political punishment. He may be one of the great political operatives of all time, but from a lawyer's perspective, as someone who studies the Constitution, relishes the Rule of Law, appreciates our courts, I will not shed a tear at his farewell bash.
I have become, over the years, more and more of a "yellow dog" Democrat, but this is one area in which I hold on with pride to my conservative values from the bedrock of my days as a young Republican, before Watergate. The process of being elected President is intrinsically political, and many aspects of the process of governing are as well, but there are some areas in which We the People must demand that the President figure out how to minimize the political damage of doing the right thing, instead of figuring out how to get away with the politically desirable thing. He or she must act with integrity as a public servant and as a guardian of the Rule of Law.

I capitalize the phrase Rule of Law as a mark of reverence, in exactly the same sense that Christians revere the Holy Bible or Muslims revere the Holy Quran. While individuals may believe in this or that or another god, the only official religion of the State must always be the Rule of Law, and that religion may not lightly be transgressed. In plain English, all who hold positions of political power, believe in whatever you believe in, but act only according to the laws of men.

I'm pleased that Dan Abrams has made the case so passionately, but I can't help feeling some of the same frustration Keith Olbermann voiced in his first "Special Comment" last year. Keith finally realized that no one else was going to speak up. I've been waiting for someone to make the conservative legal case against the Bush legacy, and Bruce Fein and now Dan Abrams are stepping up to the challenge. I couldn't fill that void by myself, because I have neither the conservative credentials nor the legal. I'm pleased that it is happening, but I am dismayed that it has taken so long when the evidence has been so clear for so long.

Dan goes on to have a discussion with the guests, "Elizabeth Holtzman, former Congresswoman from New York, and author of The Impeachment of George W. Bush, Josh Green, Senior Editor of The Atlantic, whose cover story on Rove appears in the magazine's September issue [cover photo: storm clouds over the White House, headline: LESSONS OF A FAILED PRESIDENCY], and talk show host Michael Reagan." I won't transcribe the whole thing here — hopefully MSNBC will do that, though — but I still have a few comments.

Dan put Michael Reagan, Ronnie's son who is now a talk radio host, on the spot, making him show how out of touch the Bushies' talking points are with conservative values. Reagan not only claimed that Rove showed no disdain for the Rule of Law, but even that "the fact of the matter is, most of America does agree with what's going on" [U.S. Attorney firings, NSA wiretapping, etc.]
Wait, wait, wait. Let's be clear, Micheal. Let's not confuse the words criminal with wrongdoing. They're not the same thing. Just because no one could be charged with a crime, doesn't mean there wasn't any wrongdoing.
Elizabeth Holtzman, though, put Dan on the spot for his reflexive (a polite way of saying "knee-jerk") "No one is suggesting that it was illegal to seek to fire all of [the 93 U.S. Attorneys], or to seek to fire some of them; the question isn't illegal or legal." As she pointed out, that very much is the question, because, if, as has been seriously alleged, the President of the United States, or his loyal assistants behind whom he steadfastly stands, sought to encourage or discourage criminal prosecutions for partisan political reasons, then that is the very definition of obstruction of justice. In her words, "To call the U.S. Attorney scandal political is wrong: it could be criminal."

To his shame, Dan continues, saying that he thinks Holtzman is "on something of a fringe there, in suggesting that there is going to be some sort of criminal investigation into the firings of the U.S. Attorneys." After what you just said about "relishing the Rule of Law," you're going to tell me that investigating the possibility of criminal obstruction of justice in a case where it appears that the President of the United States, the Attorney General, and other officers of our government sought to politicize the justice system, is a "fringe" position? C'mon, Dan, seriously.

Michael Reagan, though, goes way out into Neocon Neverneverland, but Dan brings him back, with some help from Josh Green.
Michael Reagan: If [Karl Rove] did something that is in fact "illegal," "wrongdoing," whatever, they certainly would've said something in the grand jury. They did not invite him, for however many times he was brought in there, and I think everybody is searching, they're saying, "Oh, we couldn't get George Bush, let's get Karl Rove, let's get him," and make sure he's a criminal on the way out of the building.

Dan Abrams: But again, ... that's the difference: just because he's not a criminal, and just because he hasn't been indicted for a crime, does not mean that he's not someone who we can criticize for his views on the Constitution and his position on judges and the judiciary in this country. ...

Josh Green: You called him the Constitutional Crippler, but the one bit of poetic justice in all this is that the person Rove wound up "crippling" was his own reputation, and so he leaves the White House not indicted, but in many ways disgraced, I think.

Elizabeth Holtzman: ... This is a man who has shown complete contempt not only for Congress, not even showing up, even after being subpœnaed, but contempt for the Constitution, ... but here you have a Justice Department that was perverted for political purposes. ... [As a prosecutor,] I never, before prosecuting a rapist or a murderer, said, "Well, are you a Republican or a Democrat?" ... Karl Rove took government and tried to make it all political, including things that we think are pretty sacred, like justice that's fair ... — you're gonna be dealt with on the merits, not on the basis of politics. I think his legacy has been a disaster.
Michael Reagan goes on to argue in one breath that Karl Rove did nothing wrong, and he's only being picked on because he was successful at getting Bush elected and re-elected, and in the next breath that it doesn't matter, anyway, because before you know it Rove will be "old news," and that anyway it's always like that in the White House. Josh Green shot down that particular attempt to sweep Rove under the rug:
Josh Green: There really never has been a figure in the modern American Presidency quite like Karl Rove, a political advisor who had that much say — not just over politics and policy, but apparently over the judiciary — and who acted from as raw a set of political motives as Rove obviously did. Of course, Michael [Reagan] is right to say that politics is always a thought in the White House, but never were they put forward to the degree that they were in the Bush White House, and Karl Rove was the main driver.
Exactly: Karl Rove represents an unprecedented radical attempt to change the way the Constitution functions. He won't be forgotten in a month, as Michael Reagan so offhandedly believes; he won't be forgotten in a generation, and he will be the subject of Constitutional Interpretation classes for centuries. The only reason to try to minimize his importance is to make the desperate argument that we shouldn't bother holding him — and those who took his advice — accountable.

Keith Olbermann had Howard Fineman and John Dean on to talk about Karl Rove, which was fine to watch, and now I'm looking forward to seeing what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have to say about Turd Blossom.

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