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General News    H2'ed 6/22/10

Would Rahm Emanuel's Exit Be Good News for Justice?

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Message Roger Shuler
Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will leave his position in six to eight months, according to a report from the London Telegraph.

Could that be good news for those who care about justice issues? The answer is yes. In fact, Emanuel's exit might be the best news progressives have received since President Barack Obama took office.

Meanwhile, NBC reports that while a congressman in Illinois, Emanuel tried to trade favors with embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich while he was in office. Blagojevich's corruption trial is under way in Chicago, and one wonders if the latest revelations could force Emanuel's White House exit to come sooner rather than later.

Emanuel's time as chief of staff has been marked by a series of disappointments for progressives. An excellent piece by Jane Mayer in the February New Yorker indicated that Emanuel played a primary role in developing the White House policy to "not re-litigate the past." That means Emanuel was key in the decision, so far, to overlook probable crimes by members of the George W. Bush administration.

Here's how we put it in an earlier post:

Mayer portrays Emanuel as a purely political animal who cares little about fundamental issues of right and wrong. And her article lends support to a long-time Obama mentor who recently complained that Emanuel is poorly serving the president and should exit the administration as soon as possible.

Is Emanuel the architect of Obama's nonsensical "look forward, not backward" policy on justice issues--an approach that seems to be hurting Democrats at the ballot box? Mayer's article indicates that the answer to that question is yes.

Emanuel, Mayer writes, sees the U.S. Department of Justice as a tool to be manipulated for political purposes. And that has put him on a collision course with Attorney General Eric Holder:

Emaunuel, Mayer writes, adamantly opposed a number of Holder's decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.'s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions. Holder authorized Durham to determine whether the agency's abuse of detainees had itself violated laws.

Ever mindful of possible political fallout, Emanuel feared that Holder's decision would alienate the intelligence community. But Holder was profoundly upset after reading classified documents that described CIA prisoner abuse. Writes Mayer:

Emanuel couldn't complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, "Didn't he get the memo that we're not re-litigating the past?"

Holder has almost been invisible since taking office. And Mayer indicates Emanuel has a lot to do with that.

If Emanuel indeed leaves after the November midterm elections, will it mean the Obama administration suddenly will get tough on justice issues? That remains to be seen.

But given the White House's dismal performance so far on justice issues, an Emanuel exit can only be taken as a hopeful sign. And we think the White House would be wise to ditch Emanuel now and replace him with a true progressive well in advance of the November elections.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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