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Profile: Charles Tiefer
Charles Tiefer was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Bush administration solves the dilemma surrounding a request by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) for documents from the Clinton administration (see Early September, 2001) by placing secrecy and executive privilege above a chance to potentially attack Clinton. Burton has tucked the request for the Clinton documents in with another request on a far more serious matter, possible malfeasance by an FBI office. President Bush instructs Attorney General John Ashcroft not to turn over the documents on either case, explaining that turning over the documents would violate the “national interest” by giving Congress documents related to “prosecutorial decision making.” Burton, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee, and editorial writers and commentators around the country criticize the administration over the refusal to turn over the documents, particularly the FBI information. The White House adds fuel to the controversy by claiming, both on this day and in a January 2002 letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that the refusal is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy (see January 10, 2002). The committee will secure an opinion from eminent Constitutional scholar Professor Charles Tiefer, who will show that the White House’s argument is flatly wrong. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
'Your Guy's Acting Like a King' - An infuriated Burton confronts a lower-level Justice Department official sent to testify about the government’s position: “We’ve got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does not want Congress involved. Your guy’s acting like he’s king.” In his official comments, Burton accuses the Bush administration of setting a “terrible, terrible precedent” in the name of executive power. “This is not a monarchy,” Burton says. “The legislative branch has oversight responsibilities to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch.” In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Burton. “Anything that limits legitimate Congressional oversight is worrisome,” he says. “This move needs to be carefully scrutinized, particularly in an atmosphere where Congress is giving the Justice Department additional powers and authority.”
Politics over Principles - But the storm of Congressional criticism will have little lasting effect. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “[P]olitics defeated… principles. Most Republicans were unwilling to challenge Bush, and many Democrats opposed Burton’s probes of the Clinton campaign fund-raising, so few members of either party were interested in fighting the White House about it. And because Bush’s first invocation of [executive privilege] was done in part to protect Clinton and the Democrats, the gesture seemed principled rather than self-serving. It was tactically brilliant.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 98]
Administration Later Turns Over Documents - After the media controversy, the administration quietly, and without public acknowledgment, will provide the FBI material to the committee. The committee’s final report on the FBI investigation will conclude with six pages of withering criticism of the administration’s fallacious claim to executive privilege. However, as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will note in 2004, the criticism from the committee is essentially meaningless to the White House, because it will garner no attention from the media and thereby cost the administration no political capital. And while some observers cannot understand why the administration would take such a hardline stand on an issue that lacks any implications for national security, the public interest, or the protection of ongoing criminal investigations, Dean will write that “it makes absolute sense if the administration’s aim is total information control.” He adds: “Accordingly, its policy remains to employ executive privilege aggressively, as long as the political price is not too high. If this administration is given a second term, there will be no price too high to expand this presidential privilege, enabling the executive branch to remain completely unaccountable.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
Court Upholds Bush Actions - In 2003, a district court will uphold the Bush administration’s refusal to turn over the documents to Burton’s committee (see March 28, 2003).
Two months after leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opens a lobbying firm on Washington’s prestigious K Street, where he markets his contacts in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to, among others, ChoicePoint, a company that brokers credit data and other personal information on American citizens to government and private entities. The Ashcroft Group quickly earns over $269,000 from four clients, and, the Chicago Tribune will write, “appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office.” Another Ashcroft client is the Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software developers, who, according to the Tribune, will use Ashcroft’s clout with the Justice Department to win approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition. A third client, LTU Technologies, makes software that analyzes large collections of video and other visual images. Ashcroft’s firm will soon sign a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to help secure Bush administration approval for the firm to sell weapons to South Korea. The Tribune will write, “While Ashcroft’s lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years.” Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to open his own lobbying firm. Charles Tiefer, a former deputy general counsel to the House of Representatives, will note, “The attorney general is very much supposed to embody the pure rule of law like the Department of Justice’s statue of ‘Blind Justice’ and he’s not expected afterwards to cloak with the mantle of his former office a bunch of greedy interests.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “Thus did the government official who recklessly expanded the market for domestic surveillance while in office find a nominally legal way to make a profit on his nominally legal policies as soon as he was out the door. It was the perfect Enron-esque coda to his wartime career.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 208; Inter Press Service, 2/14/2006]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Chicago Tribune, Charles Tiefer, Bush administration (43), ChoicePoint, Israel Aircraft Industries, Oracle Corporation, The Ashcroft Group, LTU Technologies, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, Frank Rich
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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