CBS's Cohen: Reno/Gonzales Comparisons Are 'Apples & Oranges'

March 15th, 2007 12:38 PM

CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen seems to indirectly respond to my March 14 blog post with a March 15 salvo over at CBS's "Couric & Co." blog. [Scroll below for a NYT story from March 1993 that noted that it was unusual for the AG to be involved in the holdover resignation process]

Some cyber folks, trying to attack the credibility of eminent professors Stanley Katz and Stanley Kutler, took the time to research their campaign contributions. I do not know, and don’t necessarily care, where the two professors I interviewed choose to spend their money.

Cohen may not care what their political leanings are, but the point is that he was citing these "eminent professors" to give an air of scholarly detachment to a decidedly antagonistic view of the attorney general. As such, it's legitimate to see if those sources are relatively non-partisan scholars dedicated solely to integrity and excellence in the legal profession, or if their political leanings might color their analysis. [continued...]

I'd argue that giving thousands of dollars over some eight or ten years of campaign contributions speaks to one's political philosophy and is a valid point.

In the same manner, Cohen is entitled to his personal opinion, but he gets paid by CBS to give straightforward legal analysis. Indeed, he's appeared recently on the "Evening News" to comment on the Gonzales matter. CBS viewers should be made aware of how passionate a Gonzales critic Cohen is:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is the 80th attorney general of the United States and if recent events in the law and at the Justice Department are any indication, he is rapidly staking a claim to being among the worst.

That's how Cohen began the first in his three-part blog series at the Washington Post's Bench Conference blog. It's fair to say from a cursory read that Cohen is no fan of Gonzales and he's not shy about writing about his opinions. That's fine, but it's that grain of salt that CBS News viewers should season his analysis with.

Finally, Cohen's post only rehashed what he's already asserted previously. He argued that the 1993 Reno firings of Bush holdovers and the 2007 Gonzales firings are "apples & oranges," and that to "compare these two episodes is to say that when a dog bites a man it is as newsworthy as when a man bites a dog."

Why? Because every new administration expects holdovers to submit letters of resignation and generally accepts most if not all of them.

But, no one is arguing that point. What is at issue, however, is the manner in which the media failed to find controversy in the unprecedented way Reno handled resignation. Some news outlets reported it, of course, but it was not inflated into a major controversy, even though it threatened to throw a monkey wrench into the criminal prosecution of a Democratic congressman.

Prior to Reno, it was unprecedented for a U.S. attorney general to summarily dismiss each and every U.S. attorney in one fell swoop, rather than accept tendered resignations and ease replacements into office in a case-by-case fashion.

Here's how the New York Times's David Johnston reported the matter in his March 24, 1993, article, which was written the day prior. Portions in bold my emphasis (h/t Sweetness & Light):

Attorney General Janet Reno today demanded the prompt resignation of all United States Attorneys, leading the Federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia to suggest that the order could be tied to his long-running investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski, a crucial ally of President Clinton.

Jay B. Stephens, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is a Bush Administration holdover, said he had advised the Justice Department that he was within 30 days of making a "critical decision" in the Rostenkowski case when Ms. Reno directed him and other United States Attorneys to submit their resignations, effective in a matter of days.

While prosecutors are routinely replaced after a change in Administration, Ms. Reno's order accelerated what had been expected to be a leisurely changeover.

At a news conference today only hours after one by Ms. Reno, Mr. Stephens said he would not resist the Attorney General's move to force him from office, and he held back from directly accusing her of interfering with the Rostenkowski inquiry.

But Mr. Stephens left the strong impression that Ms. Reno's actions might disrupt the investigation as he moved toward a decision on whether to seek charges against the Illinois Democrat, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"This case has been conducted with integrity," Mr. Stephens said, "and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations."

Nonetheless, lawyers who have followed the investigation have said that Mr. Stephens has been concerned that the Democratic Administration might try to upset his investigation.


All 93 United States Attorneys knew they would be asked to step down, since all are Republican holdovers, and 16 have resigned so far. But the process generally takes much longer and had usually been carried out without the involvement of the Attorney General