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Gonzales Leaves Vacancies, Low Morale at Justice Department

The successor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will inherit a Justice Department with several top-level vacancies, low staff morale, and more than 100,000 employees. Two attorneys who served in Republican and Democratic administrations discuss the department's future.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    On September 17th, Alberto Gonzales will leave a Justice Department that already has several top-level vacancies and reportedly low morale among remaining staffers. Whoever replaces Gonzales will inherit an institution with more than 100,000 employees, including both political appointees and career attorneys.

    Here to discuss where the department goes from here are two former Justice Department officials; Jamie Gorelick, she served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, she's now in private practice in Washington, D.C.; and David Rivkin, he served in the Justice Department under President Reagan and the first President Bush, he's also a lawyer in private practice.

    And, David, I thought we could begin this conversation with a working definition of what the Justice Department is supposed to do. Both in law and by two centuries of tradition, what's it for?

  • DAVID RIVKIN, Former Justice Department Official:

    It litigates cases in various litigating divisions on behalf of the government. It formulates legal policies for the United States. It is not entirely focused on Washington; there are, of course, U.S. attorney's offices spread throughout the country.

    It is an enormously powerful and influential entity within the executive branch. It also provides legal advice to other agencies and departments. If they disagree about the meaning of a particular statute, portions of the Justice Department, like Office of Legal Counsel, that adjudicate positions and establish what is the legal norms that our agency departments are meant to comply.

    It is a superb department. I feel very privileged to work there. They're excellent career people, and morale is usually quite high.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Jamie Gorelick, will you sign on with that thumbnail description? And tell us what kind of shape that department will be left in on September 17th, in your view.

  • JAMIE GORELICK, Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General:

    I generally agree, Ray, with David's description. By all reports, the morale is quite low. I think the fine career employees of the department feel buffeted by the events of the last year, particularly the last several months.

    So the challenge for the new attorney general is really to lift the morale and to set the course for the department for the remainder of the president's term. There are any number of steps that a new attorney general will want to take, but reinvigorating that sense of purpose and of the historic mission of the department is right up there.