Newsweek's Eleanor Clift complained on Friday's Diane Rehm show on NPR that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has drained all the independence out of his office, that he's acting too much like the president's "personal lawyer." In 1993, when Janet Reno announced the mass dismissal of all 93 U.S. Attorneys, no one demanded her resignation for her lack of independence from the White House. In fact, it could be because someone else was coordinating with the White House on how to run the Justice Department, the felonious Webster Hubbell. At that time, the Wall Street Journal editorial page found a "fascinating exchange" in an interview Reno granted to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw just after the Waco debacle on April 19:
BROKAW: Once the fire broke out, what did you tell President Clinton?
RENO: I haven't talked to President Clinton yet, because I have other [sic] with me, have been talking to the White House while I've been talking with the FBI. And as I have said, this is my responsibility, I'm accountable for it, and I've been trying to respond to questions from you and others in the media.
BROKAW: With all due respect, General Reno, you mean that the President has not had a direct conversation with you, has not expressed curiosity?
RENO: The President has expressed extensive curiosity. He has had a direct conversation with Webb Hubbell, who was with me as I was talking to the FBI.
BROKAW: And what did he tell Webb Hubbell?
RENO: You would have, I should say, as I understand, he was talking with Webb Hubbell. But you should check and see.
BROKAW: Webb Hubbell did not share with you what the President was saying?
RENO: Again, I have been trying to respond to the people. Trying to be accountable to the people. Trying to take your request and the request of others for information as to what happened. And as soon as I'm through with this, I'm gonna talk to the President.
A few days before, Journal columnist Paul Gigot editorialized about the U.S. attorney firings, after noting Webb Hubbell caused two U.S. attorneys to resign in protest after he arranged meetings to ease corruption investigations into Rep. Harold Ford:
All of which raises the deeper issue of who is really running Justice. Ms. Reno says dismissing the 93 [U.S.] attorneys was a "joint decision" with the White House, which means the White House decided and she announced it. Her letter asked the U.S. attorneys to send their resignation letters "care of John Podesta, assistant to the president and staff secretary, with a copy to me." Independent justice?
General Reno's spokeswoman adds that Mr. Hubbell was an "adviser" on the dismissals, though he hasn't even subjected himself to Senate confirmation. Perhaps in another era Mr. Hubbell would be Mr. Clinton's attorney general. But in this age of "diversity" and ethical appearances, a presidential crony from Arkansas seems to need a skirt to hide behind.