The right-wing understanding of Government

A former White House aide and current CEO of Freedom's Watch thinks that the President is the "client" of the Attorney General

Published July 18, 2008 12:19PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Brad Blakeman is a former Deputy Assistant to President Bush and is currently the CEO of Freedom's Watch, the group formed last year at the American Enterprise Institute by some of the nation's largest GOP donors (and Ari Fleisher), devoted to advocating the neoconservative agenda. On Wednesday night, Blakeman was on the Dan Abrams Show discussing the White House's refusal to turn over to Congress FBI interviews with Bush and Cheney in the Plame investigation, based on a brand new form of executive privilege invented by Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Here's how Blakeman justified Mukasey's obstructionist actions:

Look, what you have is a very smart attorney general who's trying to protect his client and that's the president of the United States, an executive privilege.

That is about as warped a view of how our Government is supposed to work as one can imagine. The core attribute of the Justice Department is independence, not allegiance to the President as "client." The President has his own lawyers in the White House Counsel's Office. The Attorney General is not and never was one of those lawyers. To the contrary, the Attorney General represents the people of the United States -- if he has any "client," that's who it is -- and is often required to take positions and actions adverse to the President. Few things could subvert -- and have subverted -- the American justice system more than thinking of the President as being the "client" of the Attorney General.

This all used to be so basic. But the belief that the DOJ exists to advance the interests and wishes of the President has become a central premise of how our Government now works. The Justice Department has been transformed into but another cog in the instruments of Government that protect and serve the President. And that transformation isn't unique to Alberto Gonzales (who, during a CNN interview while Attorney General, actually referred to Bush as "my client"), as The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin pointed out yesterday:

Michael Mukasey has President Bush's back.

Mukasey succeeded toady Alberto Gonzales as attorney general last fall. But the notion that he would restore independence to that post took a big hit yesterday when he refused to turn over to a House committee key documents related to the CIA leak investigation.

Mukasey may have a better reputation than Gonzales, but it turns out he is just as willing to use his power to protect the White House from embarrassing revelations.

That's why a former White House official and top right-wing activist like Blakeman can go on television and simply proclaim (without anyone contradicting him) that the President is the Attorney General's "client" and that whatever the Attorney General does to protect the President is accordingly justified in the same way that a standard lawyer's duty is to protect "his client's" interests. Obviously, Blakeman's understanding of the most basic aspects of how our Government works is painfully ignorant, but -- thanks not only to the Bush administration but also to one of the most derelict Congresses in history -- that view also now accurately reflects the reality of how the Government actually functions.

UPDATE: As Jim White notes in comments, former White House official Sara Taylor actually went before the Senate and testified that she understood that she took an oath when she went to the White House that was "an oath to the President":

It's easy to mock Blakeman's warped understanding of how our Government works, but it isn't principally the by-product of ignorance but, instead, a reflection of how our Government actually now functions.

UPDATE II: I received the following email this morning:

Glenn, maybe you were in South America five months ago when this happened, but Blakeman resigned from Freedom's Watch back in March.

Just wanted to make sure you aware for future reports.


Ed Patru

Vice President for Communications

Freedom's Watch

I don't know how I could have missed such earth-shattering news. According to a New York Times article -- one of the very few news outlets where this matter of grave significance was reported:

After a splashy debut last summer, in which it spent $15 million in a nationwide advertising blitz supporting President Bush’s troop escalation in Iraq, the group has been mostly quiet, beset by internal problems that have paralyzed it and raised questions about what kind of role, if any, it will actually play this fall. . . .

Backers of Freedom’s Watch once talked about spending some $200 million, a figure that officials now say was exaggerated. Lending to the aura of ambition, the organization moved into a state-of-the-art 10,000-square-foot office in Washington and hired a staff of about 20, with talk of bringing in scores more for a vigorous campaign to promote conservative issues.

Behind the scenes, however, Freedom’s Watch has been plagued by gridlock and infighting, leaving it struggling for direction, according to several Republican operatives familiar with the organization who were granted anonymity so they could be candid about the group’s problems.

Although the organization was founded by a coterie of prominent conservative donors last year, the roughly $30 million the group has spent so far has come almost entirely from the casino mogul Sheldon G. Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Sands Corporation, who was recently listed as the third-richest person in the country by Forbes magazine.

In any event, Freedom Watch appears to want it known that Blakeman (though not necessarily his ideas about how our Government works) is no longer associated with their group.

UPDATE III: In comments, casual_observer shamefully admits that he, too, missed the gravely consequential personnel change at Freedom's Watch. Worse, he was in the U.S. during the time when news of this matter riveted the nation, so he doesn't even have that excuse. He does, however, note some additional facts about what Freedom's Watch said -- and didn't say -- about that matter, and unearths some other relevant facts about this group as well.

By Glenn Greenwald

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