Statement On “The Shameful Smear Against Attorneys In The Justice Department”

It saddens and concerns me that another line has been crossed, moving us further toward partisan excess and incivility.  I refer to the calculated, political campaign-style attacks on the loyalty and patriotism of honorable Department of Justice attorneys over the past few weeks. 

Self-restraint is a crucial but often neglected value in our democracy.  Just because a political attack that can put “points” on the board is possible, does not make it right.  Misleading appeals to fear, like this one, are corrosive to our system and to the rule of law. 

Just as President Lincoln said of leadership generally, we must appeal to our better angels, not to fear and suspicion.  Those who have megaphones made possible by millions of dollars, and who use them to shape public opinion, must lead responsibly and constructively.

Walter Dellinger, a distinguished attorney with a long record of public service, tells from personal experience the story of one attorney who is being smeared in these attacks.  The glimpse he offers into this issue is so clear and compelling that I will insert into the Record the full text of his piece, which appeared in The Washington Post on March 5.

This attack is not about transparency, nor about some purported conflict of interest.  The Department of Justice set that canard to rest with its February 18 letter.  This is about a partisan and personal attack.  Many of the forces that have been defending John Yoo and other Bush-Cheney administration lawyers are the very ones seeking to smear these Justice Department attorneys.  It is shameful.  These American lawyers did what they are supposed to do, and what American lawyers have always done – provide legal counsel no matter what the charge or how unpopular the person.  That is what John Adams did when he defended the British.  This dedication deserves thanks, not reproach.  The military and civilian lawyers who have previously accepted the difficult task of providing representation to individuals who have been detained by the United States in terrorism cases did no wrong and do not deserve this.  Ted Olsen and Ken Starr, lawyers from the Reagan and Bush administrations, know that and agree.  It is saddening and wrong that shallow partisan operatives would sink so low. 

I ask that copies of the Justice Department letter and articles and editorials be included in the Record.

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A shameful attack on the U.S. legal system,” Walter Dellinger, The Washington Post, March 5, 2010

‘Al-Qaeda 7’ smear campaign is an assault on American values,” Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, March 9, 2010

“Editorial: Are You or Have You Ever Been a Lawyer?,” The New York Times, March 7, 2010

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